Tigers nip Cougars at the wire
Pair up evenly matched football teams on a Friday night, a Saturday night or a Sunday night, and, regardless of age and level, many contests can come down to the final drive.
Trekking 2-1/2 hours to just outside Cincinnati, the North Harrison football team met up for a rematch of the Class 3A Sectional final from a year ago versus Lawrenceburg. While the Tigers’ facilities at Dick Meador Stadium seemed plush, the action on the field was push and pull between the foes.
North Harrison evened the game at 14-all after a Jaylen Peake touchdown run and Skyler Wetzel two-point conversion with 5:54 to play.
The Cougars’ would only see the ball again for the final 22.6 seconds of action. Lawrenceburg put together a scoring drive consisting of 12 plays, all runs after a rather balanced attack in prior drives. Senior running back Brenden Cox scored on third-and-goal from the 1. A fake extra point, with holder Gavin Yoon rolling out to connect with Dylan Jones, put the Tigers up 22-14.
The final score would hold as North Harrison’s last drive made some noise with little time left. Wetzel caught a 28-yard pass along the sideline to the Tigers’ 27, but time expired.
‘We knew this was going to be a good matchup and a 48-minute game,’ North Harrison senior running back/defensive back Jake Harley said. ‘It was a great game, but we wished it would have been a different outcome. They are a much different team than last year. Last year, they were smash-mouth, and this year they spread us out more. We were ready for them, but props to Lawrenceburg.’
A season ago, Lawrenceburg made the journey to Ramsey to win the sectional title in a 35-29 ballgame.
‘We came up short again,’ North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. ‘This is tough. I really respect Lawrenceburg even more from last year after making this drive. It gives me more appreciation for what they did last year. That’s a tough bus ride. It’s every bit of 2-1/2 hours, and we stopped in Jennings County and had a walk-through to give our guys a break. Guys looked around like they are on a field trip. It’s hard.’
An avid football fan would have great appreciation for the scratching and clawing between the Cougars and Tigers. Neither team was able to force a turnover and, at times, each defense came up with key stops.
Initial offensive drives for both had promise but failed to put points on the scoreboard. Lawrenceburg’s Adam Burd burned his way through the line for a 31-yard pickup on the first play from scrimmage. The drive, however, reached the red zone before the Cougars forced a turnover on downs.
North Harrison’s opening drive saw Jarrett Fenn step on the field with a hot hand at QB. Sharing the duties with Wetzel, Fenn’s first pass play was a 28-yard swing pass to Harley. Fenn completed all five of his passes in the first half for 62 yards. For the game, Fenn went 7 of 12 for 119 yards.
‘You watch Jarrett from week one to where he is now is an unbelievable improvement,’ Harley said.
Runs by Jaylen Peake and Harley helped move the ball in scoring territory. Back-to-back keepers from Wetzel on third and fourth downs left the Cougars a half yard short of moving the chains at the Tigers’ 7-yard line.
‘We thought it would be this way,’ Williamson said. ‘I was disappointed they stopped our run game the way they did. We could find a play here or there that worked but nothing that would continually pound on them. They were nine in the box, then we’d try to spread them. They would still keep seven in the box, which would give us some success throwing the ball.’
Lawrenceburg moved the ball to the red zone again, only to turn it over on downs.
Taking the momentum, Peake took the next play on a counter hand-off 54 yards to the Lawrenceburg 32. North Harrison later had a key fourth-down conversion when Aaron Nevil had a shoestring catch to move the ball to the 9-yard line. Three play later, Wetzel made an acrobatic back shoulder catch in the end zone for a score. Luke Robertson missed the extra point left, leaving the Cougars up 6-0.
‘That was a heck of catch,’ Williamson said. ‘Our wheel; that was part of our game plan. Harley’s catch later was the same play. We thought that would be there against their coverage, and we were able to make the plays.’
Big plays seemed to happen early in drives for both teams. Garrett Yoon, a talented QB who entered the game with nearly 2,000 pass yards, connected with Cox for a 45-yard pickup. On third-and-4 from the North Harrison 8, Yoon went with a jump pass after taking the ball from his center, connecting with tight end Brody Denison over the middle.
Similar to North Harrison, the Tigers’ Payton Seig missed the extra-point try, hitting the left post, keeping the score at 6-all at the half-time break.
Despite a solid return by Austin Schaffer to near midfield to start the second half, the Cougars’ offense went three-and-out.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that scoring picked up. Adam Burd was part of Lawrenceburg’s three-person run attack which scored from the 2 with 9:19 to play. Garrett Yoon passed to his older brother, Gavin Yoon, on the two-point conversion to put the hosts up 14-6.
‘Their quarterback can really throw the football,’ Williamson said. ‘They spread the field and have three backs in the backfield. They have ball fakes, a lead blocker and a dude that can throw it. You have to defend everything. Us, when we line up in our phone booth, they feel like they don’t have to defend everything.’
With the run game clogged up, North Harrison went to the air to rally back. Fenn completed a third-down pass to Harley, who made a vertical jump to snag the ball out of the air for 29 yards.
‘On the play call, I had faith in Jarrett to make the pass,’ Harley said. ‘I knew he’d put the ball where only I could get to it, so I went up and made a play on it.’
Sneaking a rare run to fullback Chase Johnson resulted in a 16-yard gain as well. From the 5, Peake took the ball on a dive to reach the orange-painted artificial turf end zone.
Wetzel rolled out to his right and kept the conversion to deadlock the score at 14 with 5:54 to play.
North Harrison, however, couldn’t slow the Tigers on their final drive when a rain started to blanket the field.
‘For a high school football game, that was a great one to watch if you are a fan,’ Williamson said. ‘It was highly entertaining. Both teams threw some punches, and they happened to get the last punch in. That’s the way it goes sometimes.’
Peake, who closed his senior season with 1,317 rush yards, picked up 104 against the Tigers on 16 carries. Harley rushed for 32 yards and caught three passes for 61 yards.
Garrett Yoon paced the Tigers by going 9 of 17 through the air for 171 yards. He also rushed for a team-best 89 yards. Teammate Burd had 74 rush yards, while Cox had 57.
Lawrenceburg’s (5-5) previous four games leading into the tournament had been decided by one possession, two needing overtime.
‘We knew they were a good team,’ Williamson said. ‘Our kids now know after playing them two years … they fight, they scratch, they claw and they are gritty. They have a bunch of guys that are football smart. This is a tradition-rich football program.’
The Tigers have won 18 sectionals and two state titles. For Williamson and the Cougars, they keep knocking on the door of their first 3A sectional. The coach, in his seventh season at North Harrison, went to an old pair of shoes for the playoff game. A pair he wore when his Franklin County coach team won at Lawrenceburg in 2011.
‘I tried everything,’ he said. ‘This is a tough league (Eastern Indiana Conference) over here. I knew what we were in for.’
After posting 11 victories a season ago, the 2018 Cougars concluded with a 6-4 mark.
‘I don’t think the senior group feels like they carried the torch, but they did,’ Williamson said. ‘We had a winning season and won 34 games in their career as freshman through senior year. They have a lot to be proud of, helping turn this program around. I think they had high expectations in their own mark, but they are the ones who created the right to have those expectations.’
‘You would think we’d put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but we didn’t,’ Harley said. ‘We’ve been trained to come out here and expect to compete and win. This season wasn’t exactly how we wanted it to be. As a team, we did a heck of a job doing what’s needed to help the program. I know, from here on out, the underclassmen aren’t going to let North Harrison football slip up. The goal is to win a sectional championship, which, more than anything, I wish I could have done with all my brothers.’
North Harrison 0 6 0 8 ‘ 14
Lawrenceburg 0 6 0 16 ‘ 22
NH ‘ Skyler Wetzel 13 pass from Jarrett Fenn (kick failed); L ‘ Brody Denison 8 pass from Garrett Yoon (kick failed); L ‘ Adam Burd 2 run (Gavin Yoon pass from Garrett Yoon); NH ‘ Jaylen Peake 5 run (Wetzel run); L ‘ Brenden Cox 1 run (Dylan Jones pass from Gavin Yoon).