By Mitch Howard / The Endzone Staff
THE JUNGLE —As North Laurel coach Chris Larkey spoke to his team after Friday’s 48-20 win over Claiborne County, Tenn. he did not have the look of a coach that had just won by 28 points.
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” Larkey said. “A coach is never happy. I’m happy that we won. I’m happy that we got through that ballgame injury free. I’m just not happy the way we executed.”
Larkey was happy with the number of fans that turned out for the game and what may have been the longest spirit line in North Laurel football history.
“We have to have a better showing for our fans. I don’t think they got what they deserved,” Larkey said.
He just could not grade this performance as one that would get this team to the goals they want to reach. Whether North Laurel would win this contest never came into question. The Jaguars scored on their first two possessions with no indication the Bulldogs would ever be able to stop them.
There were some areas that stood out in Friday’s season opener, including special teams. Steven Nelson returned a kick 65 yards for a touchdown and Tucker Sharp added an 80-yard kick return.
“We’ve got some speed on special teams. We can break one at any time as we showed tonight and our fastest guys didn’t even touch the ball,” Larkey said.
Steven Nelson also made an interception that brought the crowd to its feet as he tip-toed the sideline for the catch.
“His interception was like you see on highlight films and he made a great kickoff return. Tanner Sharpe had a great kickoff return. I was glad to see those guys step up and play,” Larkey said. “They’re sophomores. I want to see our older guys step up.”
North Laurel’s first possession took 2:30 and ended with quarterback Michael Nelson taking a draw 39 yards for a score. After a Claiborne County punt, North Laurel struck quickly on a 7-yard run by Gabe Blair. Blair led all rushers with 11 carries for 103 yards.
The big play on the second drive was a 35-yard catch by Jaythus Riley where he had to go over the defender on an under-thrown ball. He would add another diving catch later in the game.
“Jaythus has worked really hard and it has paid off for him. He deserves everything he gets,” Larkey said.
Claiborne County ran the ball right at North Laurel on their second possession, with help from a roughing the passer penalty. Quarterback Dalton Lee made it a 13-7 game with 55 seconds in the first quarter on a 22-yard draw play.
“I didn’t think we would shut them out, but I didn’t think they would be able to run on us like they did. That’s what disappoints me,” Larkey said.
The Bulldogs’ celebration ended quickly with Steven Nelson picking up a bouncing kickoff and finding a seam up the middle. After a Claiborne County punt, North Laurel made it 27-7 on a four-yard run by Blair. With 3:17to go in the half, a five-yard run by Cole Lewis made it a 34-7 lead.
It was a sloppy third quarter for North Laurel with the offense picking up their only first down on a fumbled snap. Claiborne County tacked on another touchdown with Lee’s four-yard run making it 34-14.
Again North Laurel special teams answered. Sharp fielded the kick and faked a toss to Michael Nelson. Sharp then took off and didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line 80 yards later.
Claiborne County would punch in one more score on a five-yard run by Lee with 9:07 to play.
“We’ve worked on tackling, but we have to work on it more. If you don’t know what two plus two is you keep doing addition. If you can’t tackle, you keep tackling,” Larkey said.
North Laurel closed out the scoring with a 47-yard run by Jake McFadden with 4:27 to play.