October 02, 2013"We needed a game like this," North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said.
What the Cougars needed, they got Friday night on the road at Eastern (Pekin), and with authority, rolling up 425 yards on the ground, including a pair of sophomores — Sam Best and Austin Nevil — eclipsing the 100-yard plateau against the Musketeer defense.
The end result of the smash-mouth running style North Harrison went to bat with was a 34-7 victory.
North Harrison linebacker Brad Missi wraps up and brings down Eastern (Pekin) running back Brian Arnold in the second half. The Cougars held the Musketeers to seven points.
"They were struggling and we were struggling, and somebody was going to win tonight," Williamson said. "They are better than they were last year according to (John Harrell rankings) and in some respects they are, but I knew we were much better."
North Harrison wasted little time cracking the purple scoreboard. Taking the opening kickoff, North Harrison scored after six plays, going 62 yards. Best took the opening carry 26 yards, then capped the drive with a 13-yard sprint to the end zone.
Defensively, the Cougars held Eastern to 67 yards in the opening half, including a three-and-out on the Musketeers' first possession.
Striking quickly again, North Harrison scored after three plays, going 70 yards. It was Best again, with a carry of 25 yards, then a 2-yard pick up. His next hand off form quarterback Jack Phelps was a run to the right, where Best went 43 yards to the goal line.
In little over five minutes, the Cougars led 14-0.
It took until Eastern's third possession before the Musketeers picked up a first down. Soon after, Tristen Smith fumbled a carry, which was picked up by North Harrison's Trey Kuerzi.
Taking full advantage of the possession change, North Harrison went back to Best.
Runs of 13, 14 and 12 yards set up a 6-yard scamper for a touchdown. Nevil had a run of 11 yards on the drive, breaking through a bevy of tackles to earn them.
Another turnover by the Musketeers, an Austin Roberts pass picked off by Nevil, nearly led to another Cougar score. More big runs by Best, and a 7-yarder by Phelps pushed the ball into the red zone. North Harrison, however, fumbled the ball at the 11, giving the pigskin to the hosts before half.
"It was a good night," Williamson said. "We are still making mistakes that bad teams make. I don't know if that's going to go away this year, but we'll see."
Best was in beast mode in the first half, and for the game. Eighteen of his 21 carries came in the early going, and eventually tallied 206 yards rushing.
"I told Sam back in January or February when he started to get big, it was just me and him in the hallway, and I said, 'Sam, by the end of this year, everybody in the Mid-Southern Conference is going to know about you.' He said, 'I hope so, coach.' So, maybe a night like tonight, then a few more of those and people will know him," Williamson said.
The win was much needed for the Cougars as far as confidence, which improved them to 2-4 and 1-4 in the Mid-Southern Conference. All four losses have come to teams in the top half of the standings in the MSC — Brownstown Central, Corydon Central, Charlestown and Salem.
"It's huge," Williamson said. "We've been working at it. It's nice to see all our work pay off. Our parents are working at it and getting involved. It'll be a good weekend."
Eastern opened the third quarter with a run of 24 yards on a reverse to Jordan Eberle. Despite the run putting the Musketeers 26 yards from the end zone, North Harrison's defense stepped up to end the drive. Sacks by Brandon Stokes and Mason Miller closed the book on the effort.
Another big run by North Harrison gave the visitors a four touchdown lead. Carrying the ball 66 yards, Brandon Craig had a touchdown run. He would finish with 81 yards rushing on three carries.
Eastern would use plenty of clock on the next drive, using 13 plays to score their only touchdown on a Roberts 1-yard run.
North Harrison added an insurance touchdown in the final quarter, a 55-yard run by Nevil. He closed the game with 106 yards on seven carries.
Effective in the pocket, Phelps completed one of three passes for six yards and carried the ball three times for 17 yards. Tyler Jones had three carries for 15 yards, while Joseph Hinton had North Harrison's lone reception for six yards.
Williamson was also pleased with the improved play of the special teams. Phelps made all but one extra point, but also kicked a pair of balls out of the end zone for touchbacks.
"We're working and we hope we can get on a roll," the second-year coach said. "We played well the last two weeks, but played it close to the vest ... We're getting better, but it's a work in progress."
Seven points is the fewest North Harrison has given up since a 28-7 victory over Eastern last season.
"Tonight, we still don't have everything cleaned up," Williamson said. "We're still making some mistakes. I love the way we are playing defensively, flying to the ball. We are playing the scheme better, which is good."
The Cougars will return to action Friday when they host Silver Creek (3-3) at 7 p.m. for North Harrison's annual fall homecoming.