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Cougars look to show improvement

Cougars look to show improvement
Cougars look to show improvement
North Harrison sophomore quarterback David Langdon steps back to send the pigskin flying during a practice on Thursday. Langdon, who started each game for the Cougars’ junior varsity squad last year, is expected to slot in as the Cougars’ starting quarterback following the graduation of previous play caller Colt Beach. Photo by Brandon Miniard
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]

If one word could encapsulate the 2021 season for North Harrison football, it has to be “under-performance.”

After a solid 7-4 2020 season that saw a second-round sectional exit at the paws of Mid-Southern Conference-rival Salem, the Cougars failed to reach expectations in 2021 as they finished 4-6. Despite winning three of their final four games in the regular season, the Cougars bowed out of the first round of sectional courtesy of a 31-18 loss to eventual sectional runner-up Heritage Hills.

The under-performance by record was a byproduct of the under-performance on both sides of the ball as the Cougars averaged 21.8 points per game offensively while the defense allowed 26.5 points per contest.

“It was disappointing, we completely underperformed, we under-coached, we gave too many points and scored too few,” Cougars’ skipper Mark Williamson said. “We underperformed in every area, special teams, offense, defense, we under-everything.”

Williamson also admitted following the Heritage Hills loss that part of their problems in 2021 was the result of locker room culture, which seemed to also under-perform the typical program standard. He expects that culture to be improved this year, thanks in part to the 11 seniors leading the way.

“(The culture) is doing a lot better this year because we’ve gotten very good leadership out of these seniors,” Williamson said. “A lot of them have stepped up this year.”

Among the large senior class are some of the Cougars’ biggest weapons on the offensive end, including star running back Sawyer Wetzel. Leading the Cougars’ trio of returning All-MSC selections, Wetzel led the rushing attack with 1,084 yards on 176 carries, averaging 108.4 per game. Kaleb Kellems, an All-MSC honorable mention, is expected to lead the receiving corps once again after collecting 370 yards a year ago.

Aside from Wetzel and Kellems, the Cougars’ other offensive options from the senior class include wide receivers Maddox Pellman, Gauge Ransdell and Peyton Yocum. They also return a solid defensive unit that includes defensive back Riley Schneider, who will also see time as a punter, along with linemen such as All-MSC honorable mention Colton Cahill, Conner Nelson, Isaiah Stuffle, and Michael Thompson.

“We’ve got three all-conference kids back off of a 4-6 team along with three sectional champions in basketball (Wetzel, Kellems and Schneider) that are starters and two-way players, so that’s huge,” Williamson said. “Stuffle, a guard, is playing as good as anyone right now, as is Maddox Pellman at wideout and corner, and Michael Thompson’s rejoined the team and is showing a lot of promise right now, and he will get to play some and maybe start early. We like this senior class a lot.”

Supplementing the seniors will be a strong junior squad led by running back Owen Whittaker, who was the Cougars’ best option besides Wetzel in the running game, running for 622 yards on 122 carries. Other key juniors include running backs Will Leffler, Morgan Harris and Brennin Evans, along with tight end Noah Kendall.

The loss of 11 seniors off last year’s squad, including quarterback Colt Beach, paved the way for new blood to breathe new life into the old guard. The biggest addition comes in the form of 6-foot-2 sophomore quarterback David Langdon, who will assume the duties of QB1 to start the year.

“Langdon started every game as the JV quarterback, and he’s got a lot of talent and skill,” Williamson said. “He’s just a sophomore, and he’ll get better throughout the season. He’s a three-sport guy and does the same with each sport. He was the most improved player of the JV baseball team, and I know he was the most improved on the JV basketball team. That’s just his thing; he gets better as the season goes along.”

Other underclassmen looking to make an impact this season include sophomore running back Payton King and kicker Joshua Waynescott, along with freshmen in quarterback Grayson Clunie, running backs Bryce Fessel and Ayden Childers and lineman Noah Pellman. Waynescott, the younger brother of former Cougars’ kicker Ben Waynescott, especially looked promising in practice with low line drives between the uprights.

During the first couple weeks of practice, the improvements have been evident, but there are still kinks to work out pertaining to penalties. Depth will be an issue for the Cougars, who expect to play only 14 or 15 players to begin the season. Penalties and losing yards have also been an issue for the Cougars since the second half of the 2020 campaign. During the Heritage Hills contest a year ago, the Cougars lost about 115 yards on special teams alone.

“We count the 25-yard line on kickoffs, so every time (Heritage Hills) kicked it into the end zone and had no return, we lost 15 yards. Every time we kicked it, if they got it to the 40, we lost another five yards,” Williamson said. “We changed our cadence back and, hopefully, that helps (with penalties), but we went a lot of years with very few penalties, two to three a game for the whole season. Then, the last two years in a row, we averaged eight, nine, 10 penalties, and we can’t have that.

“We were undisciplined, and that’s on me and the coaching staff,” he added. “Believe me, that will be an emphasis, but I believe that will be much better this year.”

The Cougars’ schedule is nearly identical to last year’s slate, the only difference being the return of former conference-rival Clarksville for the first time since 2020. Following a scrimmage against West Washington last week, the Cougars will travel to Salem to open the season on Friday, the first of three away games in their first four weeks. Week 3 will see the Cougars head to Corydon Central to face the rival Panthers in the annual Big Cat Classic, which the Cougars have won the last eight outings.

Following the first four weeks, the Cougars will finish the season with three of their final five contests at home, including a matchup with MSC-powerhouse Brownstown Central (Sept. 16), Eastern (Pekin) (Sept. 23) and their regular season finale against Providence (Oct. 14).

Due to realignment by the Indiana High School Athletic Association, Corydon Central and North Harrison will have possible sectional matchups with Charlestown, Madison Consolidated and Scottsburg as opposed to defending 3A state champion Gibson Southern, Evansville Bosse and Mount Vernon.

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