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Raiders start fast, move on

Raiders start fast, move on
Raiders start fast, move on
Running back Jaylen Peake slips through the tackle attempt by Southridge's Tristan Brown to pick up extra yards for North Harrison's offense Friday night. Photos by Brian Smith

Southridge football certainly has tradition on its resum’. Three times the Raiders have played in a state final, twice since 2002.
Coming off an upset win over Charlestown the week prior, North Harrison came into the Class 3A Sectional 31 semi-final match-up with Southridge amped up. Maybe too amped up.
The Cougars, seeking its first sectional title in football, weren’t able to match effectiveness in the passing game Southridge brought forth. A few penalties in early offensive series also didn’t aid the Cougars.
No. 6 Southridge opened a 17-0 half-time lead before North Harrison settled in, but time ran out on the Cougars’ season. The Raiders moved on to the sectional final by defeating North Harrison 24-7 in Ramsey, setting up a rematch of the 2015 version with Brownstown Central.
‘To me, the game was closer than the score because of our mistakes,’ North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. ‘We moved the ball well offensively but had some penalties here and there. They are a good football team with a lot of tradition.’
Both teams had little trouble moving the ball on the first several carries. Southridge quarterback Jayce Harter kept the first carry for a 23-yard pick-up. Running back Tucker Schank and Harter took turns picking up modest gains of 4 to 6 yards each touch. The opening drive concluded with a 13-yard sweep to Ross Eckert beyond the goal line.
North Harrison had big gains on its first drive as well but, in the end, couldn’t punch in a score.
Jaylen Peake, the emerging sophomore tailback during the last month, gained 15 and 11 yards on his first two carries. Two plays later, Jake Harley exploded through a wide opening and sprinted along the Cougars’ sideline for a 25-yard pick-up to the Raiders’ 28.
Peake then gained another large chunk of yards, moving the ball to the red zone before a holding call negated the yardage.
Quarterback Avery Blocker was then sacked on the next play but nearly pulled off a touchdown pass on the following snap. Dropping back and looking vertical, Blocker’s attempt to Harley fell through his hands.
‘It set the tone for our first half,’ Williamson said of the first drive. ‘We went about 80 yards, just gashing, until that holding penalty. It was a beautiful drive, executing the game plan we drew up coming in, but the penalty hurt us.’
The penalty and sack aren’t common occurrences with the North Harrison offense.
‘It hurt our momentum,’ Williamson said. ‘It was uncharacteristic for us to not only have a penalty, but get sacked trying to throw the ball. We took a shot to the end zone and Avery threw a perfect pass, and we just dropped it.’
Southridge ate clock on its next drive. Harter, who went 5-for-5 passing for 120 yards, completed a pass of 22 yards to set up another score. The Raiders moved the ball to the Cougars’ 2-yard line but settled for a Jose Ariza 23-yard field goal through the uprights.
North Harrison moved the ball to near midfield, thanks to a Blocker 13-yard gain. Again, a penalty slowed the Cougars via a false start.
Blocker had two passes fall incomplete, including one to Jake Troxell broken up down the middle of the field.
The Cougars struggled in the passing game, going 0 for 9. Of the nine passes, Blocker threw seven, while Skyler Wetzel and Troxell attempted the others.
‘We had three open receivers: one didn’t run hard enough, one dropped it in his breadbasket and another was overthrown,’ Williamson said. ‘We made mistakes in the first half and played much better in the second half.’
Before the Cougars could get to the second half, Southridge hit a huge play with 5:47 to go before half. Harter ran a play-action pass, hitting a wheel route to Nolan O’Brien for a 70-yard touchdown. The PAT put the Raiders up 17-0 at the half.
Williamson said his team was ‘too excited’ at the game’s start.
‘We are still not used to playing on a big stage,’ Williamson said. ‘Two years ago when we played in a sectional final (vs. Charlestown), I know it was a close game, but, that first quarter and a half, it took us a while to settle down … We made a lot of mistakes across both sides of the ball. We were just as physical as (Southridge), but they were a little quicker. They have a good football team.’
North Harrison pounded the ball on the turf to kick off the second half. Fullback Evan Goodman countered his way to a 13-yard run on a third down. Peake returned to form and moved the chains with a carry of four yards.
On fourth-and-4 from the Raiders’ 33, Blocker ran a keeper for eight yards. A few runs by Josh Kemp and Peake set up a TD run by Blocker on a bootleg. The points cut Southridge’s lead to 17-7 with 5:42 to go in the third.
It was Southridge’s turn to come up with clutch third-down plays. O’Brien and Schank moved sticks with carries, while another saw Grant Maxey catch a 25-yard slant from Harter on third-and-long.
The drive concluded with the game’s final TD, an O’Brien 11-yard rush.
O’Brien finished with 61 yards rushing, while Schank (63 yards), Harter (88 yards) and Eckert (13 yards) contributed to the Southridge run game.
Of Harter’s 120 passing yards, 96 went to O’Brien on three catches.
North Harrison had one more drive, spanning the end of the third to the fourth quarter. Blocker kept a run to the 21, seeking another score. The drive, however, ended on a fake field-goal try. Holder Ethan Hamby’s toss to kicker Ben Waynescott went for three yards, well shy of the first-down marker.
Southridge put together a game-ending drive, chewing the clock to the final horn.
‘I’m proud of this football team,’ Williamson said. ‘I’m proud that they’ve raised the standard; what we expect of the players and the expectations on the coaches and players are different than what they were three years ago.’
Peake paced the North Harrison offense with 83 yards on 22 carries. Harley gained 41 yards on four touches, while Blocker had 31 yards.
Williamson believes the momentum continues forward for the program.
‘Our program is behind (Southridge) right now,’ he said. ‘The better team won tonight, but, there’s no doubt about it, we’re coming. Our players are proud to be North Harrison football players.’
After upending Charlestown the week before, the buzz around school and town was on the Cougars’ football program.
‘Our fans and the teachers I talked to kind of thought we were going to win tonight,’ Williamson said. ‘I give them the ‘We got a shot’ but we knew Southridge is a good team.’
Southridge (10-1) moves on to face the Mid-Southern Conference champion Brownstown Central (10-1) Friday at 7:30 p.m. It’s a rematch of last season’s championship, won by the Braves (37-0). The game will be played in Huntingburg.
The Cougars (8-3) will graduate 15 seniors off a group that won 26 career games, a program record.
‘We had a good year,’ Williamson said. ‘We have a lot of kids coming back. I can’t say enough how much these seniors mean to the program. They’ve won 26 games in four years. That’s a lot of wins.’

Southridge 7 10 7 0 ‘ 24
North Harrison 0 0 7 0 ‘ 7
S ‘ Ross Eckert 13 run (Jose Ariza kick); S ‘ J. Ariza 23 FG; S ‘ Nolan O’Brien 70 pass from Jayce Harter (J. Ariza kick); NH ‘ Avery Blocker 7 run (Ben Waynescott kick); S ‘ N. O’Brien 11 run (J. Ariza kick).

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