Defense holds as Cougars roll
North Harrison’s Friday night football opener against visiting Salem was important in several ways. First, it was a Mid-Southern Conference game, and getting the ones at home are especially important if the race to the top gets tight. Second, it was against a talented opponent with more size and would give the Cougars a real test to start the season. The most important thing of the night came at the end, with North Harrison coming away with a 28-7 win to start the year.
‘I’m proud of our kids,’ coach Mark Williamson said. ‘This is a great start. Everybody after week one gets better. That’s the most improvement, from week one to week two, and I’m glad we got out healthy. We beat a quality opponent, and we know we’re going to get better for week two.’
Salem won the coin toss before the game but deferred the first possession to the Cougars. That may have been the Lions’ first mistake as the Cougars’ running backs crushed Salem in their first possession, moving the ball 64 yards on just seven plays to score.
One key play came on fourth and five when Avery Blocker hit Brett Rudolph for a 25-yard, first-down pass to the 5-yard line. Jaylen Peake then put the first score on the board for the new season. Ben Waynescott got his first official extra-point kick, and North Harrison had a 7-0 lead.
‘That was huge,’ Williamson said. ‘It was fourth and five. We were on the 30-yard line, plus-30, going in. I don’t like to go for it on fourth down, but I do a lot it seems like.’
Salem began its first possession from its own 34-yard line. The Lions moved to the 8-yard line on nine plays. Salem misfired on a pass play into the end zone. The Lions’ first turnover came next as Salem fumbled the ball to the Cougars 10 yards from the goal line.
North Harrison moved the ball to the 46-yard line on eight plays. The first period then ended, and the Cougars began again going the other direction. The first play of the second period was big as Jake Harley took the ball and ran 46 yards to score. Waynescott got the extra point, and the Cougars were up 14-0.
The Cougars’ defense stymied the Lions on their next possession. Salem lost ground on two plays, and the Lions misfired on two pass attempts, the second on fourth down that gave the ball to North Harrison on downs.
North Harrison took its time on its next possession, using up clock toward the half. The Cougars ran 21 plays to the 3-yard line. With seconds ticking away on the clock, Kahana Wilks took the ball into the end zone. Waynescott stayed perfect with his third extra point, and the Cougars had a 21-0 lead at halftime.
‘They’re a quality opponent,’ Williamson said. ‘That quarterback (Brandon Corbin) is something else. They’ve got two receivers (Seth Call) and (Evan Brishaber) that are football players. They didn’t let up. They got down there four times, and it was just they didn’t get it in. I think they got down there three times with no points. They only had two possessions the first half, but they took it all the way to the end zone. One was a turnover and one was stopped on downs.’
Salem began the second half with the ball on the 40-yard line, and this time the possession proved fruitful. Four keeper plays by Brandon Corbin moved the ball to the 28-yard line. On the next play, Corbin threw to Shane Mahuron to the 9-yard line. Corbin threw again on the next play and this time hit pay dirt with Evan Brishaber catching the ball for six. Sheldon Yoder punched in the extra-point kick, and the Cougars’ lead was cut to 14, 21-7.
North Harrison punted on its next possession, and the Lions started on their own 39-yard line. Corbin mixed things with a combination of pass and running plays, moving the ball into the red zone and the 9-yard line. Two plays later, Salem was on the 2-yard line on fourth down. When it looked like the Lions would get seven more, they, instead, fumbled the ball to the Cougars. That led to another touchdown with Wilks getting his second of the night on a 15-yard run for a 28-7 lead.
Salem fumbled the ball on its next possession for another turnover. North Harrison eventually gave up the ball again, but the Lions missed another chance to score as the Cougars made another goal-line stand.
North Harrison let the clock run down, going on for the 28-7 win.
‘It’s different,’ Williamson said. ‘You open up with a quality opponent in week one, and I felt like we had to put more offense in than we normally do. The guys had a really good week-one game. We had all the bases covered for the most part. This is probably the most prepared for a week-one game.’
For the North Harrison running backs, Salem had no answer as they completely dominated.
‘We kind of got a groove there in the second quarter, and, had it not been halftime I think we really have wore them out if we had eight more minutes to play,’ Williamson said. ‘Unfortunately, halftime hit and the momentum kind of shifted to them a little bit. We kind of gained it back by getting a stop there late in the third quarter.’
‘I think they probably had 350 yards of offense, and that’s fine; 28-7, we’ll take it all day long,’ he said. ‘They’re a quality opponent. I’m pleased with the O-line and the way our backs carried the ball. We had no turnovers.’
Salem 0 0 7 0 ‘ 7
North Harrison 7 14 0 7 ‘ 28
NH ‘ Jaylen Peake 5 run (Ben Waynescott kick); NH ‘ Jake Harley 46 run (Waynescott kick); NH ‘ Kohana Wilks 3 run (Waynescott kick); S ‘ Evan Brishaber 10 pass from Brandon Corbin (Sheldon Yoder kick); NH ‘ Wilks 15 run (Waynescott kick).