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Flawless NH regular season

Flawless NH regular season
Flawless NH regular season
Celebrating with fans and supporters who made the drive to Paoli, North Harrison players break out in a team chant before heading to the bus Friday night after posting a 36-21 win over the Rams to complete a first-ever perfect regular season at 9-0. Photos by Brian Smith

‘It feels so great to be undefeated.’
‘It’s crazy.’
‘It’s pretty darn special.’
Seniors Trey Kuerzi and Austin Nevil, along with coach Mark Williamson needed few words to describe the emotions and feeling behind an undefeated regular season in football.
Williamson’s testament to it being ‘pretty darn special’ comes from his experiences. In his 41 years of playing and coaching, the 2015 Cougars are the fourth team he’s been a part of to pull off the feat.
Around Harrison County high school football, the accomplishment is a first. In 2006, the Cougars went 7-1 during the regular season (game versus Brownstown Central that year was canceled due to weather).
Friday night, on the road in Paoli, 3A No. 7 North Harrison outscored the gritty Rams 15-0 in the final quarter to win 36-21. Plenty of hooting and hollering came from the fans who made the trip, seeing the boys in blue and white finish the regular season with an unblemished 9-0 record.
Nevil, putting in another 100-yard rushing performance with his bruising teammate Sam Best, said the undefeated season was crazy to think about.
‘You look back at the past and we’ve never really came close to an undefeated season or even a conference championship,’ Nevil said. ‘We’re not close to being done. We came into the season focused on getting a winning season. We came out and worked hard and focused in the weight room all winter and spring. We’re still rolling after 9-0.’
Kuerzi said there were thoughts of going undefeated throughout the season, but the goal always remained the next opponent on the slate.
‘Our goal was one step at a time,’ the receiver turned tight end said. ‘Our goal off the bat was to beat Crawford (County). Then the second game was Corydon. We had to beat them because it hadn’t happened in forever. We did that and moved to the next game. When Brownstown (Central) came and when Charlestown came, we took care of those, too. Now, we have to do it in sectional. We can’t stop here.’
Going 9-0 is also rare throughout the state. Only 17 of 324 teams survived the nine weeks without a loss. Gibson Southern is the only other unbeaten Class 3A squad.
‘Nothing is ever going to take away from a 9-0 regular season,’ Williamson said. ‘They’ve done it at a school that has never won much in football. Our seniors have done so much for this program.’
Paoli (2-7) certainly gave the Class 3A No. 7 Cougars a challenge.
Sam Best scored his third touchdown of the first half via a 3-yard plunge with 1:38 to go before the break. Ben Waynescott, a perfect 3 for 3 on extra point kicks, put the Cougars’ lead at 21-7.
The momentum going into the half, however, shifted to the Rams. On four plays, Paoli moved the ball quickly to the North Harrison 8-yard line. Quarterback Garrett Tolen passed to Ty Lawson for a Paoli touchdown with 43 seconds left on the clock, cutting the Cougars’ lead to 21-13.
A rare punt by North Harrison gave the ball back to the Rams in the third quarter. Hitting pay-dirt with a big play, running back Tyler Smith scampered 79 yards for a TD. He also ran in the conversion to knot the game at 21.
‘Paoli came ready to play,’ Williamson said. ‘They were a team in the groove after they got a few guys back. They had won two in a row and (was) picking up momentum.’
The Cougars regrouped and did what they do best: pound the ball.
A 52-yard scoring drive featured 16 offensive plays. Best and Nevil, per usual, did the damage. Two fourth-down conversions were needed to keep the drive alive and score the TD. Best picked up one critical yard at the 20 to move the chains, then quarterback Avery Blocker called his own number near the goal line. The sophomore signal caller spun off a blocker to sneak in the end zone from the 1.
‘There was a bunch of third- and fourth-down opportunities, and we executed several times,’ Nevil said. ‘We didn’t put the ball on the ground, and (Paoli) fumbled a couple of times. That was their killer.’
North Harrison’s defense came to life. Best stuffed Smith for no gain on third down then pressured Tolen into a sack, jarring the pigskin loose with the hit. The ball rumbled backward and was eventually recovered by the Rams. They turned the ball over on downs at their own 29.
With a short field, Nevil had a long carry of 16 yards through the Rams’ defense to score, putting his team ahead 36-21.
‘That kid, No. 5 (Nevil), ran his heart out tonight,’ Kuerzi said. ‘What Paoli does is stuff you at the line by trying to hit you harder, but that’s what we do. It was a matter of who hit harder. It was a great game.’
Nevil turned around and recovered a fumble on Paoli’s next possession. The turnovers proved costly for the Rams. Kuerzi also had a first-half interception.
‘We kicked it in gear and readjusted at halftime,’ Nevil said. ‘We knew we had to go out and play our game, smash-mouth football.’
Facing and dealing with adversity was nothing new to Williamson and his players. Paoli evening the game in the third quarter didn’t seem to bother the Cougars or the mood on the sideline.
‘I’m proud of our guys because they hung in there,’ the fourth-year coach said. ‘They’ve been through so much adversity that they respond to it so quick. I think we are dealing with success a little better too.’
North Harrison’s offense didn’t yield a ton of big plays but continued to grind behind Best and Nevil. Best had 41 carries for 186 yards and three TDs. Nevil’s one score was part of a 100-yard effort on 21 touches. He also caught a screen pass from Blocker for a 22-yard gain in the second half. Blocker was 1 of 3 passing and rushed for 14 yards.
Kuerzi, a two-way player featured at tight end, said he respects the hard work the twin backs log week in and week out.
‘Being on the line, it makes you humble,’ Kuerzi said. ‘It’s taught me a lot of things, mainly the respect of our running backs. It’s a brotherhood.’
The freshman year for the North Harrison seniors ‘ Mason Keeling, Isaiah DeGrasse, Garrett Nokes, Lee Manwaring, Best, Nevil and Kuerzi ‘ saw the Cougars go 2-8 in Williamson’s debut.
‘It’s amazing to think about where we came from four years ago,’ Kuerzi said. ‘Then, North Harrison was the team you hoped to play.’
‘They did something really special, and I hope they have bigger and better things in mind the rest of the way,’ Williamson said. ‘We’ll see what we run in to when we go to Southridge.’
A trip west to Southridge is in store for the first round of the Class 3A Sectional 31 tournament. The Cougars have never won a sectional in football.
‘It’s going to be a game in the sectional,’ Kuerzi said. ‘All of us are going to play hard.’
Sectional: North Harrison at Southridge
Friday night will be North Harrison’s (9-0) first trip to Raider Field in Huntingburg to face Southridge (6-3) in the opening round of Class 3A Sectional 31.
Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $6 (kindergarten through adult). Southridge, located off S.R. 231, features an artificial turf playing surface. A lot north of the fieldhouse is for handicap/disability parking only.

North Harrison 7 14 0 15 ‘ 36
Paoli 7 6 8 0 ‘ 21
NH ‘ Sam Best 2 run (Ben Waynescott kick); P ‘ Tyler Smith 9 run (Kayle Kibler kick); NH ‘ Best 33 run (Waynescott kick); NH ‘ Best 3 run (Waynescott kick); P ‘ Ty Lawson 8 pass from Garrett Tolen (kick failed); P ‘ Smith 79 run (Smith run); NH ‘ Avery Block 1 run (Best run); NH ‘ Austin Nevil 16 run (Waynescott kick).