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Cougars hold off improving Musketeers

Cougars hold off improving Musketeers
Cougars hold off improving Musketeers
Josh Kemp breaks through an opening for a big gain for North Harrison in the first half Friday. The Cougars trailed 7-6 at the half but came out on top, 21-7 against Eastern (Pekin). Photo by Brian Smith

Ben Waynescott teed the ball up three times in an attempt to start the second half Friday night.
The North Harrison kicker may have symbolized the homecoming football contest against visiting Eastern (Pekin). The first kick was out of bounds. The second pinned the Musketeers inside the 10, but the referees waived off the attempt after realizing they never marked off the penalty. The third finally churned the clock below 12 minutes with Eastern starting with a 7-6 lead.
The Musketeers moved the ball to the 15 before turning the ball over on downs.
Seeking the need for momentum, the Cougars went away from form and picked up the offensive pace. A hurry-up-style offense saw North Harrison go 85 yards on seven plays, capped by a 45-yard Avery Blocker bootleg run, to give North Harrison its first lead, 14-7.
From there, North Harrison’s defense was up to task in slowing the Musketeers while adding another touchdown. The Cougars went on to win the Mid-Southern Conference match-up, 21-7.
‘I don’t want to say our kids were let down, because I think it was obvious, but Pekin deserves a lot of credit for that,’ North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. ‘That’s the best Pekin team in my five seasons we’ve faced. On both sides of the ball, they played pretty good. We knew by looking at film that coaching staff is doing a great job. They’ve improved a ton.’
Eastern slipped a dump-off pass from Todd Branaman to the elusive Blake Feller for a 20-yard gain in the third quarter. The ball moved to the 15, setting up a fourth-and-4 for Eastern. North Harrison defended a Branaman pass attempt that went incomplete, turning the ball over.
‘(Eastern) get the first down on the screen where we had the tackle and missed it,’ Williamson said. ‘They were first down at 20, going in. They get a touchdown there, they go for two, they may be up two possessions. Our defense came up with a great stop there.’
Going to the ground quickly, North Harrison saw runs of 6, 2 and 4 yards from Brett Rudolph to get a drive going. Kohana Wilks took a hand off 11 yards, then Josh Kemp had runs of 10 and 7 yards.
With the quicker pace, Blocker caught the Musketeers over-pursuing a fake hand-off to the right, turning on the boot to race beyond the field to the left. The score, along with Rudolph’s run conversion, gave the Cougars a 14-7 lead.
‘It wasn’t planned,’ Williamson said of the tempo change. ‘It was more spontaneous by me. We had a 7-yard gain on the first play, and I wanted them to hurry up, line up and run it again. It wasn’t to get more plays in; it was more of an attitude: lock your jaw, bow your neck with a mentality that we didn’t have the first half.’
In the final three Musketeers’ possessions, North Harrison allowed one more first down.
The next series after taking the lead, Blocker intercepted a Branaman pass attempt along the right sideline.
Set with similar field position, North Harrison went back to the pound-it-out run game. The Cougars milked nearly eight minutes off the clock before scoring with 7:53 to play in the fourth. The 15th play of the drive saw Kemp score from the 5.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kemp was a standout from his end position, making several tackles, including three for losses.
‘Kemp ran hard for us,’ Williamson said. ‘Rudolph has lost some confidence running the football because he’s been clogged up in the last three games. I’ve told him he has to make his own hole, and he hasn’t been doing that. He needs a crease to run through, and Kemp didn’t need a crease. It’s good we have several backs. Nobody has become the clear-cut guy.’
The win moved North Harrison to 4-2 overall and 3-2 in MSC play, while Eastern dropped to 1-5.
‘I won’t say we played bad, but I will say we didn’t play with a sense of urgency in the first half,’ Williamson said. ‘I do not want to take anything away from Pekin. We played better and with more emotion in the second half.’
Eastern scored on its first possession. Feller took the ball on all 11 plays from scrimmage. He had sizable runs of 9 and 17 yards before scoring from the 10.
North Harrison responded with a touchdown drive. Jake Harley, coming back from an injury, saw limited carries, including a 14-yard run. Blocker showed off his arm too, picking up first downs with pass completions to Ethan Hamby and Rudolph.
Blocker ended the drive with a run from the 2, but the extra point was blocked, leaving the Musketeers up 7-6.
Neither team put together much in terms of drives in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
‘Our defense rose to the occasion,’ Williamson said. ‘They have been playing well. I felt pretty good once we got (Eastern’s) tight end, three-back (offensive) look settled down; we could hold them scoreless the rest of the way. It depended on if our offense could get first downs, and they were able to do that for us.’
North Harrison rushed for 258 yards, led by 80 from Blocker, 69 from Kemp and 57 from Rudolph.

Eastern (Pekin) 7 0 0 0 ‘ 7
North Harrison 0 6 8 7 ‘ 21
EP ‘ Blake Feller 10 run (Feller kick); NH ‘ Avery Blocker 2 run (kick blocked); NH ‘ Blocker 45 run (Brett Rudolph run); NH ‘ Josh Kemp 5 run (Ben Waynescott kick).