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‘Battle for Blue’ goes way of Cougars, 26-12

‘Battle for Blue’ goes way of Cougars, 26-12
‘Battle for Blue’ goes way of Cougars, 26-12
North Harrison's Brandon Craig lifts the traveling Battle for Blue paddle after the Cougars defeated rival Crawford County Friday night. Photos by Wade Bell (click for larger version)

In last year’s season opener against North Harrison, Crawford County had 14 players to take on the Cougars, who overpowered the Wolfpack, 50-6. This year, however, was a different story as the Wolfpack came in with 49 players on their roster and a whole different attitude. The Cougars came out with a victory again, but this time it was much closer, at 26-12.
‘Hats off to Crawford County,’ North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. ‘I’ve been doing this since 1987. They’re the most improved football team from one year to the next I’ve ever seen in my career. It was incredible. Hats off to them.’
‘We’re right there,’ Crawford County coach Alan Hess said. ‘We thought we had a chance tonight. They’re a good team. They’re well coached. He’s won everywhere he’s been, and he’s going to win here. We played right with them tonight, and I think that bodes well for us moving forward.’
North Harrison ran the ball early, but penalties became a problem with three costly ones forcing the Cougars to call time-out after having to give the ball to the Wolfpack.
Jacob Mauck had a 35-yard run for the Wolfpack to the North Harrison 15-yard line. A holding call against the Cougars on the next play pushed the ball to the 8-yard line, and, three plays later, senior Brandon Cate put the Wolfpack up 6-0 with a 3-yard run into the end zone.
Crawford County turned over the ball twice later in the period, once when Trey Kuerzi caught an interception and a second when the Cougars recovered a Wolfpack fumble. The latter set up a North Harrison touchdown early in the second quarter, when Sam Best ran in from four yards to score, tying the game at 6.
Both teams failed to score on their next possessions. Midway through the second, the Cougars coughed up the ball again, with Crawford County grabbing the recovery. On second-and-goal from the 12-yard-line, Cate got his second touchdown of the game, catching a pass from Seth Fell for a 12-6 Wolfpack lead.
‘We’re bigger,’ Hess said. ‘We’re not big, but we’re bigger. Our kids get off the ball well up front. We had some tenacity and had some aggression, and that’s going to help us. We’re going to be OK.’
North Harrison quickly countered on its next possession. On the fifth play of the drive, quarterback Jack Phelps kept the ball for 39 yards and a touchdown to tie the score. Best ran the two-point conversion, putting the Cougars in front 14-12.
North Harrison scored again with just under a minute to go in the half when Phelps threw to a wide-open Joseph Hinton for a 20-12 Cougars lead going in to the locker room at halftime.
Williamson said his biggest task at the break was to get his team settled down. The biggest stat for the Cougars were the eight penalties in the first half, which cost them 80 yards on the field.
‘We lost our composure,’ Williamson said. ‘Our coaches at times lost our composure. We have a lot to clean up. ‘ Just poise, calm down. Our guys, we are much improved. There’s no doubt. We are much better than we were last year. Our guys have put in so much work.’
Hess was concerned about his team’s turnovers after gaining the lead in the half.
‘Too many mistakes,’ he said. ‘We had the lead, get the ball back, turnover, get the ball back, turnover. We’re not a good enough team yet to overcome those types of mistakes. We’ve got to play a mistake-free game. Too many missed tackles. The blown assignment gave up a touchdown.’
The second half was a defensive one by both teams, with just a single touchdown being scored. That came on a 64-yard run by North Harrison’s Tyler Jones with 2:56 to go, sealing the Cougars’ 26-12 win.
While he may not have scored in this game, Cougar senior Brandon Craig laid down most of the groundwork for North Harrison’s final score.
‘Nobody on the football team has worked harder than him the last nine months, since Thanksgiving,’ Williamson said. ‘He hasn’t missed a workout. The mistakes he made, the fumbles he made, a couple were contact fumbles. A couple were fielding punts. I’ll sleep like a baby when a kid like that makes a mistake. We’ll never give up on him.’
‘We put the ball on the ground a bunch,’ Williamson said. ‘We had penalties, drive-killing penalties. If you just look at our penalties and our times we fumbled and all that, you can tell we played a really poor game. But I don’t want to take anything away from Crawford County and what they’ve done.’
‘Jacob Mauck looked great,’ Hess said. ‘Brandon Cate, in spaces, is a different type of ball player. Seth Fell made some great throws tonight. We’ve got to give him a chance to throw it. He made some good throws. Kyle Neal up front, some of the young guys up front, across the board, this was probably the best game we’ve played since I’ve been here. That’s including the Silver Creek win and the first one we played here two years ago. We should have won.’
Now with their first game under their belts, both teams already find themselves getting ready to play conference opponents on Friday night. The Cougars will travel to Mid-Southern Conference rival Corydon Central, which edged out host Perry Central 8-7 in its opener, for the Big Cat Classic.
The Wolfpack, meanwhile, will be on the road to West Washington in their first Patoka Lake Athletic Conference match-up of the year.
Hess said his main job right now is to get his team in better shape, as several Wolfpack players suffered leg cramps in the second half of the game.
‘Getting healthy and getting in shape,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to be able to play four quarters. We’re going to see that no-huddle, spread offense next week, and, if we’re not in shape, it’s going to give us trouble. Maintain our blocks up front and give our quarterbacks a chance; give our running backs a seam. We’re going to be OK. It’s coachable things. We’ll be OK. We’ll be fine.’
‘I doubt there’s been too many North Harrison teams more ready to leave the locker room to play a game than what we were,’ Williamson said. ‘We were stoked up, ready to go and ready to play. We’ve got to learn how to channel that intensity. We’ve got to learn from a coaching side. Our coaches have invested a lot of time. We’ve worked at this, and it’s going to be a learning process.’
‘It was a good night,’ he said. ‘It was a great night for them. My hats off to them. It’s good for high school football. They’re a brand-new football program, and they needed a night like tonight. They need a season where they win four or five games to get that thing going over there. To me, that’s good for high school football.’