|Sun, Sep 21, 2014 08:09 AM
|Issue of September 17, 2014
October 30, 2013 | 12:41 PM
Plot twists typically turn a good book into a great one.
Being caught by surprise has become common for the North Harrison football team in the last few weeks.
It happened again Friday when the Cougars elected to receive the opening kickoff on a cold night in Mitchell.
In practices leading up to the Class 3A Sectional 31 meeting against the Bluejackets, North Harrison coach Mark Williamson and staff prepared to face a four-man defensive front. That wasn't what they encountered from the upset-minded Bluejackets.
Adjustments were made and soon the rout was on. North Harrison, a program that hasn't won a sectional football game since 2005, romped to a 42-14 victory behind three Sam Best touchdowns.
"We're getting better adjusting on the run," Williamson said. "It limits our play-calling because we prepared for a 40-team all week and they come out with a five-man front. I'm not used to seeing teams change like that, but I guess that is a compliment to our running game."
North Harrison receiver Joseph Hinton catches a pass over the middle and sprints toward the end zone for a touchdown Friday night. Quarterback Jack Phelps completed all three pass attempts in the opening half. (click for larger version)
The win improved North Harrison to 5-5 and a second-round date in the playoffs with undefeated No. 4 Brownstown Central.
"First win in sectional for this program in a long time, it feels really good. It's about time," North Harrison senior Brandon Craig said.
North Harrison went into the locker room against Mitchell with a 21-0 lead at halftime.
On the opening drive, North Harrison picked up a fourth down near midfield to keep the series going. On the fifth play, Best broke free for a 33-yard touchdown run down the center of the field, putting his team up 7-0.
Mitchell's first two drives were three-and-outs with North Harrison's defense slowing the option offense.
Early in the second quarter, North Harrison took advantage of Mitchell's aggressive play in an attempt to slow the Cougars running game. Quarterback Jack Phelps dropped back and linked a pass to Joseph Hinton across the midfield. Hinton then easily won a foot race to the end zone.
"I ran the route, made the catch and did what I was supposed to do: catch and run," Hinton said. "I think Jack has gotten a lot of confidence over the course of the year. He has improved a lot, along with our whole team. Passing-wise, we have increased our abilities."
For the game, Phelps completed all three pass attempts for 93 yards. Gary Blankenship had a Gumby-like stretch-out catch in the first half for 37 yards.
"Jack threw it, we caught it and it looked like pretty good stuff," Williamson said.
Craig had a run of 25 yards on North Harrison's final scoring drive of the first half. It was capped by Austin Nevil bouncing a run to the right from 21 yards out for a score.
The points put North Harrison ahead 21-0 at the half. In the half, Mitchell's offense was able to cross midfield one time. One play after they did, Chaz Mertz forced a fumble that teammate Mike Clark recovered.
Mitchell didn't go down without a fight. To start the second half, the Bluejackets used a halfback pass — Luke Jakub to Jaykob Nicholas — to gain 36 yards. Benefiting from a pass-interference call and an 11-yard run from Jakub, Mitchell set itself up for a 6-yard plunge to the end zone by Jakub.
Responding quickly, North Harrison used four plays to score to get the points back. It was Best breaking off another sizable 46-yard run over the right side of the offensive line for a TD.
"It was nice to get our offense going because they had a hard time stopping us," Craig said. "Mitchell was a decent team that played good in the second half. They didn't quit, and I respect that."
Best added a 52-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter. The sophomore closed the game with 176 yards on 13 carries.
North Harrison's defense joined the scoring party as well. Safety Trey Kuerzi intercepted a pass and returned the pigskin 60 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't know if we played that crisp tonight, but we had the long bus ride, a day off school," Williamson said. "We didn't play all that great, but we didn't play poorly. We didn't seem that explosive upfront tonight."
Williamson believes some of the players may have been looking ahead.
"I wouldn't say they were looking ahead to Brownstown, but they may have. I'd hate to think our players could even think of that, when we are a program that hasn't won in forever," Williamson said.
Craig closed the game with 40 yards rushing while Nevil had 38.
The Cougars are on quite a roll. After starting the season 1-4, they have won 4 of 5.
"It's amazing that we've become a family at North Harrison," Hinton said. "We keep getting better, and the momentum is in our corner right now."
Up next is Brownstown Central (10-0), a team the Cougars haven't defeated since 1992.
"We get to play again, which is nice," Craig said. "We get to come home and take a shot at Brownstown one more time."
North Harrison will host the second-round game against the Braves with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. Brownstown Central won the regular season meeting, 28-0, on Sept. 20. The other semi-final game will be Brown County (6-4) at Charlestown (7-3).