TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By John Stepp For The Times-Tribune
The North Laurel Jaguars dropped their first game of the year last week in a 42-26 loss to the Pulaski County Maroons. The Jaguars played valiantly in the defeat, after losing their starting quarterback Michael Nelson and starting middle linebacker Austin Baker the day before the game.
This week, with Baker back and Nelson a game-time decision, the Jaguars face another difficult opponent in the Lincoln County Patriots. The Patriots do not have the record that would cause people to think they’re a top team, but after a closer look, Lincoln County has played a tough schedule this year with losses to Boyle and Bourbon Counties.
While looking at mutual opponents can sometimes be deceiving, both the Cardinals and the Patriots have fallen to Pulaski County, and both by a total of three touchdowns. The Patriots scored 35 points against the Maroons, and North Coach Chris Larkey knows his team will have to play some of their best defense of the year in order to pick up the district win.
“They’re a good football team with a very good offense. They are a lot like us in they run some similar plays,” said Larkey. “They like the power and the dive and some counters and like to run the ball at you. They have a good running game, so we will have to be ready for that.”
The Jaguars have also had a great rushing attack this season, led by Nelson and senior running back Gabe Blair. Blair has led North Laurel in rushing this year with 739 yards and eight touchdowns, and will be relied up on heavily this week, especially if Nelson is still unable to play.
“We’ll know more about Nelson’s injury later in the week, but either way Gabe is big for us,” said Larkey. “He had a great game last week and we need the same thing from him this Friday. He’s always been a good player for us and is a leader on this team.”
Sitting at 1-1 in the district, a win this Friday would seal North Laurel’s berth to the playoffs. While North Laurel was one of the favorites to win the district coming into the year, the Jaguars play in one of the toughest districts in all of Class 5A and just making the playoffs is a big accomplishment.
“This win could mean a trip to the playoffs for us and that is really what our kids are focusing on. I’m sure their kids are, too,” said Larkey. “We know they’ll be ready to play and we have to make sure we show up and take care of business. It’s a game that we cannot overlook and I expect it to be a hard-fought game.”
Moving to 2-1 in district play would be huge for North Laurel, who still has two district games left – one against Madison Southern next week, followed by cross-town rival South Laurel on Oct. 25. Winning those games could mean a home playoff game for the Jaguars.
“Last year, we beat Lincoln 35-14, but three of those touchdowns were on quarterback sneaks and one of them was on a Hail Mary pass from the five-yard line,” said Larkey. “Those are not typical plays that you score on and that could have been a different ball game last year. We have to play well in order to win Friday night. It’s going to be a good game. We take it one game at a time and each district game is tough.”