Pirates come back, top NH
North Harrison went into Friday night’s contest with a shot at sharing a portion of the Mid-Southern Conference title all while taking a look at its first-round sectional opponent. The Cougars’ task was no small order: to take down defending champion Charlestown.
Friday night, the Cougars gave Charlestown a battle, taking a 7-0 lead to halftime. With a strong offensive second-half performance, Charlestown was able to avoid the upset on its home turf, winning 25-7.
‘We shut them out the first half,’ North Harrison coach Jason Mullis said. ‘It was being disciplined on defense. In the second half, they ran a few plays that caught us. They ran more counters than we anticipated, but in two weeks we will be prepared.’
North Harrison (3-4, 3-2 MSC) was effective in the first half of controlling the clock and the football. The Cougars allowed only four Pirate offensive possessions in the half, including two 3-and-out possessions. The Cougars’ defense was up to the challenge of stopping the Pirate’s offense early.
‘I was really pleased with my defense this week,’ Mullis said. ‘They (Charlestown) had the ball inside the 30 on their first three possessions and our defense stopped them. This was the best our defense played all year. We’re hitting our stride. We are playing better football now than we did earlier.’
On offense, the Cougars pounded the ball on the ground. On their final two possessions of the half, the Cougars orchestrated 11- and 12-play drives. The 11-play drive resulted in a turnover on downs, but the second ended with a touchdown.
On a third-and-five from the 42, Matt Yeats forged ahead for 10 yards to pick up a key first down. Yeats, along with leading running back Matt Bruderle, helped fuel the drive.
Then from 13 yards out, Bruderle bounced a run outside down the right sideline and stretched the ball over the end zone pylon for a touchdown. Zach Stephenson’s extra point gave North Harrison a 7-0 lead.
With 41 seconds to go before halftime, Charlestown was able to drive the ball down to the 32. Damon Vest then lofted a long pass to Joel Rodriquez that was caught near the 10. Rodriquez was then stopped at the 1 when the halftime horn blew.
In the second half, Charlestown came out with a quick running game, featuring Vest. The signal caller took the third play from scrimmage 51 yards for a touchdown.
It didn’t take Charlestown long to gain the lead with the momentum. After a stalled Cougar drive, Charlestown scored again. Vest led the drive with another long run on a draw, followed by Josh Graham running in a score from 20 yards out. The failed extra point gave the Pirates a 13-7 cushion.
North Harrison then found bad luck on the ensuing possession. The Cougars put together a solid drive led by Bruderle. Facing a third and long, Bruderle connected with Levi Simpson on a halfback pass for 13 yards.
Later in the drive, Bruderle had a 17-yard carry, moving the ball to the 25. Three plays later at the 17, Yeats ran up the middle but was stripped of the ball, turning it over to Charlestown.
The Pirates capitalized with another long Vest run from scrimmage, a 47-yard TD scamper.
Down 19-7, the Cougars continued to fight. They put together an 11-play drive that ended with an interception throw. The Cougars ran the ball to the 27-yard line before being whistled for a holding penalty. The hold forced a 3-and-20 situation. On the play, Cory House intercepted Matt Johnson’s pass attempt.
‘The only thing we lacked was being mentally tough for those 20-play drives,’ Mullis said. ‘We saw that with a holding penalty and a fumble. We are capable of doing that (long drives) though. I think they know that.’
Charlestown (6-2, 5-1) added a late score to reach the 25-7 final.
Bruderle is inching closer to his second 1,000-yard rushing season. The sophomore has 978 yards on the year and leads the team with 13 touchdowns. On Friday against Charlestown, he carried the ball 31 times for 168 yards. Yeats also had a productive day, running nine times for 47 yards. Corey Isaac added 29 rushing yards, and Tony Powell had 22.
North Harrison and Charlestown were evenly matched on yardage. The Pirates had 330 total yards to North Harrison’s 295. Graham led the Pirates’ offense with 174 yards rushing.
It won’t be the final time the two teams will meet. North Harrison heads back to Charlestown on Oct. 24 for its first-round game of sectional play.
Mullis said his team has a few things to fix from what the coaches saw Friday, but they will certainly give the Pirates another battle.
‘There is no better preparation than playing a team that you’re going to face in two weeks,’ Mullis said. ‘We’ve got these guys in two weeks. I am sure they don’t want to see us again. We had them. We had them on the ropes. If we don’t fumble down here near the 15 and don’t have a hold, we have three scores. We’re not happy by any stretch, but we played our butts off tonight.’
Before the re-match, North Harrison travels to Crawford County to take on the Wolfpack Friday at 7 p.m. Crawford County (3-5) is coming off a 44-20 loss at Clarksville. A win will put North Harrison at 4-4 to end the regular season.
‘The Crawford game is huge for us,’ Mullis said. ‘It will put our seniors at 4-4. It’s not a winning season and it’s not a losing season. The way we started out nobody would have thought that.’
In the MSC, Charlestown, Salem and Brownstown Central will share the conference champion honors with one loss each.