Charlestown buries NH in ‘Boneyard’
By Ross Schulz, Contributing Writer
Charlestown High School’s football stadium is affectionately known as the “Boneyard” by the home fans. Unfortunately for the North Harrison football team, a number of Cougar bones are piling up in the collection of wins for Charlestown.
A strong defense, turnovers and timely hook-ups through the air proved to be the separating factors in a matchup of undefeated Mid-Southern Conference foes Friday night as Charlestown topped North Harrison 39-13.
“It’s a tough place to play,” North Harrison head coach Mark Williamson said. “They had a great crowd and were fired up. Coach (Jason) Hawkins had them ready to play.”
The last three times the Cougars (3-1, 3-1 MSC) have entered the “Boneyard,” they did so undefeated and left bruised, battered and 3-1. They were hoping to avoid that fate Friday night, and the effort to do so was evident early on.
After a couple of penalty flags set the Cougars’ offense back on the first possession of the game, the defense looked to make a big play as Charlestown entered the red zone.
Senior defensive back Kaleb Kellems appeared to rip the ball free from a Pirate receiver to gain possession. The officials conferred with each other for a minute or two before giving the ball to the home team. A few plays later, on 4th and 2, a bad snap led to a sack fumble picked up by defensive end Colten McKinney, who took off the other way before being pulled down around midfield. An official, however, inexplicably ruled the ball was dead back at the 20-yard line where North Harrison would take over.
A promising drive for the visitors, including a big third down run by quarterback David Langdon, was thwarted by a bad exchange between Langdon and running back Will Leffler, leading to a Charlestown fumble recovery.
Charlestown took advantage of the turnover by putting the first points on the board with a connection from quarterback Clay McClelland to Jake Ottersbach. A McClelland keeper added two points for an 8-0 Pirates’ lead.
The Cougars next possession was cut short with another turnover, this time through the air on a deep pass attempt from Langdon to Kellems. For an offense predicated on no turnovers and no penalties, it was a tough start in a tough environment for the visitors.
The NH defense came up big, forcing a fumble to give the offense another chance. After a couple of first downs, the drive stalled, and it would be the last time the Cougars had the ball within one possession of Charlestown.
McClelland would again link up with Ottersbach after a pump fake for a 46-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion extended the lead to 16-0.
After an extra long half-time break on homecoming night, North Harrison kicker Josh Waynescott executed a perfect onside kick attempt as the ball banged off a front man of Charlestown, ricocheting toward the Cougars’ players. The kick-off team was unable to locate and pounce on it, however, and Charlestown took over in great field position looking to extend its lead.
Running back Chris Graham, who will suit up next fall for Indiana University, did exactly that on a tough run to put Charlestown ahead 24-0.
North Harrison turned it over on downs on the ensuing possession, but the defense came up with a 3-and-out defensive stop to get the ball back. The Cougars could get nothing going against the Charlestown defense and were forced to punt. Senior Riley Schneider took some frustration out on the pigskin, booting his best punt of the year, covering 57 yards.
Charlestown opened the fourth quarter by putting to rest any doubt about the outcome with a 29-yard pass and catch from McClelland to sophomore Rhys Duncan. Another successful two-point conversion put the home team ahead 32-0.
The highlight of the night, at least for North Harrison, came on the next possession when Langdon found Kellems for a 48-yard touchdown. Kellems had a defender all over him, so much so that a pass interference flag was thrown. Kellems reeled it in anyway with one hand before taking off for the end zone.
“It was a good play and a good touchdown, but it doesn’t matter because we got completely out-worked,” Kellems said. “We’ve got to come back this Friday more prepared to bounce back.”
Kellems, who has offers to play at the next level, had a strong game with 70 yards on six receptions.
Charlestown added another score in the fourth quarter, and Cougars’ back Owen Whitaker got loose for a 66-yard score to make the final tally. That long run helped Whitaker’s final stat line as the game’s leading rusher with 120 yards (10 carries), followed by Charlestown’s Graham with 102. Sawyer Wetzel totaled 47 yards on 15 carries.
Ottersbach totaled 114 receiving yards on just three catches, including two touchdowns.
Will Leffler was again all over the place on the Cougars’ defense, collecting 12 assisted tackles and six solo.
“Leffler is playing as well as anybody on our team,” Williamson said. “He plays until the whistle.”
Charlestown junior Sean McAfee set a school record with 17 solo tackles on the night.
North Harrison will return home Friday for a match up with perennial MSC powerhouse Brownstown Central (3-1, 3-1).
“We’ve got to come out and try to keep it close and win at the end,” Williamson said.