TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By Mitch Howard / The Endzone Staff
HAZARD — One of the best seasons in North Laurel history was not supposed to end on a cold night in Hazard. But the team that fell to Perry Central 28-15 wasn’t quite the same team that tied the school record for eight wins.
“Anytime you lose your starting tailback, who has basically carried us all year, along with other injuries it kills you. You’ve practiced all week and suddenly you have to change everything you worked on,” North Laurel coach Chris Larkey said. “We don’t have enough depth to do that and it just killed us.”
On the fifth play of the game, both Gabe Blair and Zach Abner left the game. Neither player would return. Blair, the No. 2 rusher in Class 5A and the leading rusher in school history had driven North Laurel to the Perry Central 35-yard line when his ankle got rolled. Abner would leave the field in an ambulance with a knee injury.
“We lost our starting tackle and our starting tailback on the same play. If you don’t lose those guys you win the football game. I really believe that,” Larkey said.
The Jaguars were forced to juggle the lineup and the game plan. Two plays after the injuries a fumble would end the drive. It would be the first of seven North Laurel turnovers.
“The injuries and turnovers cost us tonight. You just can’t turn the ball over like we did,” Larkey said.
North Laurel also fumbled on their second possession, but was able to recover. The drive stalled on downs at the Perry Central 28. The third drive ended with a fumble and also left Perry Central with a short field on the Jaguars’ 25-yard line. It took just two carries from Nathan Pray for the Commodores to take the lead on a 13-yard run.
“They did what they had to do and we couldn’t do what we were going to do. We didn’t have the guys in there to do what we were going to do,” Larkey said.
There was only 2:29 in the half when Perry Central scored. North Laurel tried to make something happen with the passing game. Instead Pray picked off the Hagen Hodges pass. It took just three plays and less than a minute for Perry Central to score again. Big tailback Devan Brewer broke through the middle for a 23-yard run and a 14-0 lead.
The half ended with another interception, North Laurel’s fourth turnover in five possessions.
The Jaguars were driving again to start the second half. They had first-and-10 at the 12-yard line when a fumble ended the drive. This time the defense held and North Laurel was back in the game.
The Jaguars got the ball at their own 37-yard line following a Perry Central punt. Michael Nelson had been sideline with an ankle injury, but checked into the game in the second half. On third-and-4, a slower-than-usual Nelson was still able to get outside for a 44-yard gain. Jake McFadden scored on a 13-yard run on the next play. McFadden would finish the night with 125 yards on 25 carries.
Nelson ran for the two-point conversion to make it a 14-8 game.
“I thought we were going to win 15-14, but we didn’t stop them up the middle a couple of times and they capitalized on a few mistakes and missed tackles,” Larkey said.
Perry Central answered with a 56-yard drive capped by Pray’s 11-yard run to make it 22-8 with 10:48 to play. McFadden carried the Jaguars down the field again with his three-yard run making it a 22-15 score with 7:54.
Perry Central’s John Toomer returned the kickoff 56 yards, but the drive stalled at the North Laurel 37 with 6:05 to play. Instead of driving for a game-tying touchdown the drive would end appropriately enough with an interception.
Perry Central sealed the win with Pray scoring on a 25-yard run with 1:30 remaining. North Laurel’s final possession also ended with an interception.