September 11, 2013Momentum can swing slowly or quickly under certain circumstances.
In the annual Big Cat Classic on Aug. 30, North Harrison took the slow route to gain steam late in the second quarter, seeking to knock off rival Corydon Central. The Panthers, however, ignored the 9-1/2-minute North Harrison scoring drive that left one minute for Corydon Central to score.
Six plays in less than 40 seconds by the host Panthers ended with Lannis Buck sneaking in one of his three rushing touchdowns to give Corydon Central a 14-6 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Panthers scored on each offensive drive, tallying four more scores while keeping their counterparts out of the end zone. The offensive explosion of 33 unanswered Corydon Central points led to a 40-6 win in the battle of felines.
"This game means more than a lot," Corydon Central linebacker Logan Behagg said. "It's a great win to be proud of."
The Big Cat Classic win sets the longest winning streak the Panthers have had against North Harrison, making it five consecutive. North Harrison, however, maintains the overall series edge, 20-16.
"It's good for our seniors," said Corydon Central's Darin Ward, who is 7-1 as a head coach against the team's rival. "It starts their conference season off right and school year off right with a home victory with the opening home game."
Both teams started the game with fumbles on their opening possessions. North Harrison's came on a lateral pass, while Corydon Central's was coughed up on a run.
"Dropping the double screen we wanted to throw, when we dropped the lateral, was a play that might have gone to the house," North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. "It was that wide open."
From there, Corydon Central was able to put together a drive that spanned the first and second quarters to score the game's first TD. Running the ball every step of the 70-yard drive, Josh Allen had pick ups of 15, 12 and 18 yards. Ben Woodward also had a rush of 10 yards during the drive. The series was capped with a sneak by Buck.
Down 7-0, North Harrison chewed plenty of clock on the next series after Corydon Central scored at 10:55 away from the half on the hot and humid night.
Fighting through two holding penalties on the drive, North Harrison was able to keep the chains moving on third and fourth downs. Quarterback Jack Phelps found Trey Kuerzi for a four-yard pass on fourth-and-1 near midfield. On a third-and-5, Phelps scrambled seven yards to move the sticks again.
The biggest play of the drive came when Phelps hit a wide-open Mason Miller on a seam route, picking up 36 yards to push the ball into the red zone. Tyler Jones would finish the drive with a one-yard plunge, but a missed extra point kept Corydon Central ahead 7-6. The clock had wound down to 1:15 when Jones scored.
"(North Harrison) got a lot of momentum going," Ward said. "The drive they got going at the end of the first half, we had opportunities on third-and-7, third-and-8, but didn't get lined up correctly and they picked up the first down."
On the ensuing drive, Corydon Central returned the ball shy of midfield, but a face-mask penalty on North Harrison gave the Panthers possession 43 yards from the end zone. Two incomplete passes preceded a pass-interference call on a ball bound from Buck to Brayden Lander.
Taking advantage of the penalty, Alex McAfee took his first touch of the game and bounced a run to the right pylon 26 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the 1. Sealing the score, Buck pushed the ball across with 30 seconds remaining, giving the Panthers a 14-6 lead at half.
"We ran the clock down and didn't want to give them too much time," Williamson said. "Without the penalty, I think they might have sat on the ball, but, when you get the ball plus-45, it's tough not to push it. Anytime a team scores right before the half it's a killer. We had it, but they took the momentum away."
Ward said he was pleased with how the offense responded after North Harrison's lengthy drive.
"They took advantage and scored in about 40 seconds," Ward said. "It was a good answer, knowing we'd get the ball out of the half. McAfee was kind of banged up during the week. He ran and did some things but gave us fresh legs there late in the half and coming out in the third."
The second half was all Corydon Central.
Setting the tone was the opening drive that went 83 yards on seven plays. The seventh was a big one, with McAfee running 49 yards up the gut for a score. The effort helped McAfee eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career. He would finish the game with 77 yards on six carries.
"It was real nice to see our offense score on that first drive of the second half," said Behagg, who would finish with a team best 10-1/2 tackles. "It makes it a little easier for (the defense) to not stress."
Minutes later, a fumble by North Harrison gave Corydon Central ideal field position to score from 24 yards out.
Buck tossed his lone touchdown pass of the game, hitting Lander on a slant from the 9. The point-after made the score 26-6 with 4:27 to play in the third quarter.
For the game, North Harrison had two promising drives, including the game's second series that went 11 plays but ended in a punt.
The second came after the Lander TD. A pair of Corydon Central 15-yard penalties helped the Cougars reach Panther territory. On fourth-and-6 from the 38, Phelps hit Miller for another completion, this time for 26 yards. Runs that garnered little yardage by Phelps led to consecutive Cougar offside penalties which would come before a fourth-down sack.
"We're bound and determined to stop these penalties and our undisciplined play," Williamson said. "Week one, I blamed it on us not controlling our own intensity just because for the first time we had intensity about us. The pre-snap penalties, the motions, jumping before the snap, that's on coaches. We tried to do too much offensively. I knew we'd have a tough time hanging for four quarters, and we wanted to get them on their heels and try to pound it. For the most part, that worked but penalties killed us."
Corydon Central added two more scores in the fourth quarter. Buck kept a bootleg to his left and went untouched to the end zone. He'd finish 4-of-7 passing for 48 yards while rushing for 24 yards and three TDs.
The final score of the game came when junior varsity players saw action. Wade Thomas took advantage of the moment, scoring from 15 yards out to reach the 40-6 final.
"I think we played well offensively last week, but just a few turnovers we didn't need to have," Ward said. "That was something we needed to clean up."
He felt going into the game the ground game could have success against North Harrison. The Panthers finished with 292 rushing yards. Allen had 61 yards on six carries, while Woodward had 41 on five.
"We felt North Harrison was a team, with them wanting to play too high with their safeties, that we could, and needed to, run the football on them," Ward said. "It showed our offense played well. Ben Woodward ran some veer and mid-line stuff really strong. It was a nice change up with McAfee and Josh Allen. They were a nice little spark for us."
Phelps led the Cougar offense with 7-of-9 passing for 89 yards. Miller caught two balls for 62 yards. Austin Nevil led the ground game for North Harrison, rushing for 72 yards, mostly late in the fourth quarter. Sam Best rushed for 27 yards, while Jones had 26.
"When it's time to make a play, our guys have to make plays," Williamson said. "We're not doing that right now. They want to. There is no lack of that; they want to get it done."
Ward said momentum is a good thing the Panthers will take away from the game, along with a 2-0 record.
"I think there is still a lot of unknown about us and how good we are," he said. "I think we're an average football team that has a lot of potential. If we continue to work hard, buy in and be disciplined, accountable and play as a team, I think we can continue to improve each week."
Williamson, in his second year at North Harrison, tipped his cap to Ward and the Panthers.
"He played at IU for one of the greatest coaches ever in my opinion, Bill Mallory," he said, adding that he was an assistant coach at Castle High School when Ward played at Boonville. "He coaches hard-nosed, tough football. It showed today. They were more disciplined than we were and more physical. That is bothersome, but I can understand because of the guy coaching them. That's how coach Mallory coached at IU."