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Cowboy up: Cougars lasso Braves

Cowboy up: Cougars lasso Braves
Cowboy up: Cougars lasso Braves
North Harrison cornerback Jake Troxell, above, leaps in front of Gavin Bane to intercept a pass thrown by Kyle Kramer in the first half Friday night. Photos By Brian Smith

Clint Eastwood may have been the elite cowboy when it came to Hollywood actors during the heyday of western movies, but the scene on the field Friday at North Harrison could have resembled a western party.
Shoulder to shoulder, the North Harrison student section was packed with cowboys and cowgirls. Come post-game, after North Harrison football pulled off a win over Class 3A No. 7 Brownstown Central for the first time since Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ was released (1992), the straw hats were lifted as high as the blue-and-white helmets were on the gridiron.
‘Brownstown came in ranked, and I think we shocked a lot of people the way we won,’ North Harrison’s Garrett Nokes said. ‘It’s incredible. The last time was 1992. It’s been so long since we’ve beat them. Beating the best team in the conference, there is nothing you can’t be happy about.’
North Harrison, for the first time since Eastwood’s Academy Award winner, defeated Brownstown Central 38-30 Friday night. The last win over the Braves in front of a home crowd came in 1987. In 36 lifetime meetings, it was the seventh win against Brownstown Central (other wins came in 1982, ’84, ’86 and ’88).
‘I wasn’t even a thought back then (1992),’ North Harrison’s Lee Manwaring said. ‘It’s a huge step.’
Two key defensive stops by North Harrison in the second half, tied at 22-all, returned the ball back to Sam Best’s hands. Behind two Best touchdown runs and one from quarterback Avery Blocker, the Cougars’ offense continued to pound the ball at its opponent.
Best put in another stout effort, carrying the ball 43 times for 202 yards.
‘He’s incredible, he really is,’ North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. ‘He’s a really good high school football player that can play at the next level.’
Humble, Best pointed to the guys in front of him on the offensive line.
‘I know I get a lot of credit for running the ball, but, if it weren’t for the offensive line, I’d be just another running back,’ Best said. ‘I’m nothing without them. They’ve worked just as hard as I have in the weight room. They deserve the credit. I run it hard, but the holes are there. They never let me down.’
After Best scored with 2:39 to go in the third quarter, the points erased 22 unanswered scored by the Braves to even the battle of Mid-Southern Conference unbeatens at 22.
North Harrison’s two best defensive stands came the next two Brownstown Central possessions. Nokes wrapped up Matthew Nierman for a loss then brought down Ryan Benter on third-and-9, two yards short of a first down.
Electing to go for it on fourth-and-2 at their own 29, quarterback Kyle Kramer kept the ball but was snuffed out by Ethan Hamby and Trey Kuerzi.
‘It was huge,’ Williamson said of the stop. ‘We were flying to the ball … I knew he was going to go for it. I don’t think it was a bad call because, if we got the ball, they weren’t going to get it back for seven or eight minutes. I understood the call.’
Cashing in, North Harrison ran five plays to score. Keeping on a bootleg, Blocker ran in untouched. Best punched in the conversion to give North Harrison a 30-22 lead.
Brownstown’s offense struggled again on its next possession, failing to pick up a first down. On fourth-and-1, the Braves were flagged for holding, prompting an eventual punt.
‘Our offense came out after the stop and we knew the momentum went to us if we kept going,’ North Harrison’s Mason Keeling said.
With 9:06 to play, the Cougars handed off to Best 12 straight times, running the clock down to 2:36. Three third-down conversions occurred on the drive, which ended with Best running in from the 3. His PAT run pressed North Harrison ahead by 16, 38-22.
‘Little more sense of urgency defensively, plus we adjusted to their speed better in the second half,’ Williamson said of the defense. ‘We have a few guys out there that don’t tackle real well yet. Brownstown is good, very good. I don’t want to play them again, but I bet they feel the same way.’
In its two-minute offense, Brownstown Central scored on a Kramer pass to Nierman with 48 seconds left. The onside kick, one of many attempted by the Braves, was recovered by Manwaring.
A few kneel downs to a 5-0 start, the best since 2006, ended the battle for the top of the MSC.
‘Coach told us they play a 48-minute game, and they gave it to us,’ Nokes said. ‘We gave it to them too. I was looking at our faces at the end, and I could see we were wore down. Then, I looked at (Brownstown’s) and they were too. That’s just a good ballgame.’
The win was four straight tough ones for the Cougars (5-0, 4-0 MSC), all decided by one possession.
‘Things have gone our way this season,’ Williamson said. ‘Last year, we deserved better than we got. We didn’t deserve a chance of an undefeated season, but we deserved a winning season. We’re a good football team. We only have seven seniors, and we’re making a living off a few guys. Everyone else is slowly getting better and better. Hopefully by sectional time, we’ll compete in that sectional and be a contender. You have to say we are a contender.’
Four seasons into the Williamson regime at North Harrison, the success is coming. He understands the adversity the players in the program have gone through. The senior group won two games as freshmen.
‘They kept believing, and the leadership is great,’ Williamson said. ‘We haven’t changed a thing from the way we practice from day one the last four years. They know our practice schedule inside and out. We’re consistent, and it reflects in our play.’
On Friday night, a quick start helped the belief in upsetting the Braves (4-1, 3-1). Best scored on the opening possession then a fumble recovery by Hamby set up another score. Austin Nevil, who finished with 66 yards rushing, ran a counter eight yards for a TD and a 14-0 lead.
Brownstown Central turned over the ball three times in the opening half. Jake Troxell and Kuerzi had interceptions in the second quarter.
Rallying back, Brownstown Central tied the game at 14 with scoring runs of 13 and 21 yards from Gavin Bane. The Braves took full advantage of North Harrison turning the ball over on downs twice when reaching the red zone.
‘We just kept playing,’ Williamson said. ‘You know Brownstown isn’t going anywhere … They’ll fight back. It’s a 48-minute game. We played 48 minutes, and I think they played 48 minutes. They did wear down, but our big backs wear people down.’
Come the second half, North Harrison scored on all three possessions.
‘Their defense did a lot of stunts we weren’t expecting early in the game,’ Keeling, a member of the o-line, said. ‘My guy never did the same thing twice in a row. It took us a while to adjust.’
The win over Brownstown Central, a power in the MSC (coach Reed May is 222-44 in 23 seasons), is one the Cougars will enjoy for a short time.
‘We have to all keep our heads,’ Keeling said. ‘Monday is a new game.
‘A couple of the guys after the game were saying this was for the (conference) championship,’ he said. ‘Let’s see if we can do it.’
‘We’ll preach a lot about handling success, especially in the school environment,’ Williamson said. ‘We have to play Pekin this week. It’s the truth. That’s who we play. After that, we see who we play then. It’s one at a time. We’re in no position to overlook anybody. All of our games have been close except for the first one. They’ve been nail-biters.’
The day North Harrison defeated the Braves will stick a long time in the mind of Best and his senior teammates Isaiah DeGrasse, Keeling, Kuerzi, Manwaring, Nevil and Nokes.
‘It’s amazing because, 20 years from now, we’ll be that group people talk about,’ said Best, who has 971 rushing yards in five games. ‘They’ll remember when we beat Brownstown for the first time in 20 years; that was our senior group. That’s huge to us, but we can’t sit here and count on this win. This is big, but we want the conference.’
MSC race
North Harrison sits alone at the top of the Mid-Southern Conference standings in football. The program, which has never won a league title, is one game ahead of Brownstown Central (3-1 MSC) and Corydon Central (3-1 MSC).
Remaining games within league play for the Cougars are at Eastern (Pekin) (1-4, Sept. 25), vs. Silver Creek (3-2, Oct. 2) and vs. Clarksville (0-5, Oct. 9).

Brownstown Central 6 8 8 8 ‘ 30
North Harrison 14 0 8 16 ‘ 38
NH ‘ Sam Best 3 run (Ben Waynescott kick); NH ‘ Austin Nevil 8 run (Waynescott kick); BC ‘ Gavin Bane 13 run (run failed); BC ‘ Bane 21 run (Matthew Nierman run); BC ‘ Kyle Kramer 1 run (Bane run); NH ‘ Best 2 run (Best run); NH ‘ Avery Blocker 13 run (Best run); NH ‘ Best 3 run (Best run); BC ‘ Nierman 11 pass from Kramer (Ryan Benter run).