Defense puts Cougars back on track
It certainly had been a while. Behind a stout defense Friday that forced five turnovers and limited Eastern (Pekin) to under 50 yards of total offense, North Harrison picked up its first win since opening night with a 44-0 performance over host Eastern.
‘It’s nice to win again,’ North Harrison quarterback Lucas Brown said. ‘More or less, we’ll take more from this game than just a win; it’s confidence. We needed to get this game under our belts.’
Brown led an offense that returned to putting up big numbers ‘ 491 yards of total offense. Four different Cougars (2-5, 1-4 Mid-Southern Conference) scored, including a pair of touchdowns from Matt Bruderle and Jacob Snook.
The offense was supported by the North Harrison defense returning to their old ways with an aggressive nature, flying toward the football.
‘It’s fun flying around, killing drives,’ Cougar senior middle linebacker Geno Hedgespeth said. ‘That’s our style of play.’
Eastern (1-6, 0-5), a first-year varsity program, couldn’t get much going when it had the ball. The passing game was nonexistent, tossing six incomplete throws.
Senior Andrew Kitchel sent the Cougars’ sideline into a frenzy when he picked off an Eastern pass attempt at the line of scrimmage during Eastern’s first drive of the third quarter.
Pressure was key for North Harrison, especially from the linebackers that played much closer to the line of scrimmage.
‘We were blitzing our linebackers a lot tonight,’ North Harrison head coach Jason Mullis said. ‘That is what we’ve always been know for: our aggressive style. The last couple of weeks, we’ve been playing a read-and-react defense. We decided to go back to what we know.’
Changing defenses is just another adjustment the Cougars coaching staff has made over the course of an injury-plagued season. Outstanding running backs Bryan Schroeder and Corey Isaac were supposed to be the keys to the secondary. Now, with those two out and original starting corner Robert Grant sidelined, defensive schemes had to be adjusted and worked against Eastern.
‘It’s been hard because lower classmen have had to step up into the roles of Bryan and Corey,’ Hedgespeth said. ‘We’ve had to help coach these young guys to make them see what it takes to play at our level. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been real quiet for two years, since they were freshman, but now they are taking on bigger roles.’
The Cougars offense didn’t shy away from playing aggressive either. Their opening drive took 11 plays, capped by Bruderle’s three-yard run into the end zone.
When the offense took the field the second time, they weren’t on the field for very long. Josh Cheatham took the second play 55 yards down the left sideline to the end zone.
Ty Brown recovered the ensuing onside kickoff attempt, giving the Cougars offense the ball once again. Brown was rewarded for the recovery, taking the first carry of the drive 39 yards to launch the Cougars rout. Bruderle’s two-point conversion run gave the Cougars a 22-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
North Harrison made it 30-0 when Jacob Snook ran in for his first of two touchdowns from one yard out. Snook’s TD was set up by a 43-yard Michael Cundiff reception from Lucas Brown.
The Cougars added a pair of second-half touchdowns, a 28-yard run from Snook and a two-yard run from Bruderle.
‘We’re getting in the swing of things,’ Lucas Brown said. ‘We were used to running a few plays then one guy takes the big play to the house. This is something new, trying to be that 12-play drive team. It’s fun, and we’re trying to get it to that level it needs to be.’
Brown finished with 72 yards passing and 10 yards on the ground. Bruderle led the ground game again with his seventh consecutive 100-yard performance with 140 yards rushing. Cheatham also carried for 100 yards. Snook (63 yards), Ty Brown (50 yards) and Tony Powell (25 yards) also had solid games on the ground.
It had been a long five weeks since the Cougars last win, which was Aug. 17 over West Washington.
‘It’s a big win for us, believe it or not,’ Mullis said. ‘After last Friday’s debacle (40-6 loss at Clarksville), we just said we were going to start all over, 0-0 (record), and get back to what we do: play smash-mouth football. We didn’t run a whole lot of crazy things, just stuck with our game plan. We’re trying to get back to fundamentals and get a little win streak heading into the playoffs.’
The Cougars will welcome the surprise team in Southern Indiana ‘ Charlestown ‘ to Ramsey Friday night. The Pirates, who are 7-0, have already locked up a tie for the MSC title and are coming off a 27-6 win over Salem last week.
North Harrison will look to pull the upset against a team that is holding teams to 12.6 points per game while averaging 51.8 on offense.
‘We’re not going for conference,’ Mullis said. ‘Right now, this game is a good test for us heading into the playoffs. If we can play with them, it’ll tell us if we’re going to be ready or not.’
Hedgespeth echoed similar comments.
‘This win is a good push heading into the Charlestown game,’ he said. ‘It will get our focus and intensity back up to where it needs to be.’
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