September 11, 2019It was coach Mark Williamson in the locker room at halftime looking to inspire his North Harrison kids with words and emotions Friday night in the Big Cat Classic. If words weren't enough, the return of Aaron Nevil surely had the "show me" effect.
Early in the first half, Nevil had his shoulder pads off on the sideline, receiving treatment after making a tackle that left him hobbled. With fellow running back Isaiah Lawson out with injury from the previous week and next-player-up Zachary Taylor leaving the game dinged up Friday, the Cougars saw options dwindle at running back.
Nevil then suited back up and returned, helping North Harrison steamroll after trailing by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. By the end of regulation, Nevil notched his second TD of the fourth quarter to even the score at 27-all.
North Harrison running back Aaron Nevil slips through the grip of Corydon Central's Bradley Pitts to march toward the end zone for a fourth-quarter score.
In the first overtime played in the series, the Panthers were held out of the end zone on their possession while North Harrison scored on its second play for a 33-27 victory.
"It was very exciting and very painful from the third quarter, on," said Nevil, who injured his shoulder. "We came out and imposed our will. That's what we needed to do."
"I challenged them at halftime," Williamson said. "We were getting out-hit and out-toughed. I think when Nevil came back in the second half, playing hurt, I really believe he inspired a lot of our players. It was Earl Campbell-like; people were helping him up off the ground after each carry."
Corydon Central scored on its first two possessions of the second half a 43-yard run from Noah Denbo and a 2-yard keeper from quarterback Nolan Adams for a two-possession lead.
Then came the Cougars. Quarterback Jarrett Fenn completed two straight passes one to Nick Gunter and the other to Colby Whittaker to move the ball past midfield. Play then halted for a delay when Taylor needed medical attention.
Out of the break, Fenn had runs of 15, 11, 3 and 10 yards to set up a 7-yard toss to the right scored by Nevil. With Taylor, the team's holder on field goals, injured, the Cougars attempted a two-point conversion but failed.
"If you aren't calm, you are going to make mistakes you shouldn't make," Fenn said of the final quarter. "We kept our head in and stayed focused the entire game."
North Harrison's Colt Beach recovered a pooch kick off the foot of Matt Nealy near the 30 to give possession back to the Cougars. Taking advantage of the short field, North Harrison scored with 7:27 to play when Nevil notched his third rushing TD.
The extra point was blocked, keeping the score even at 27-all.
"When we recovered the fumble, it felt like we were going to win," North Harrison two-way lineman Devin Troncin said. "It was a game-changer, and we were in control."
Corydon Central, meanwhile, had other ideas. Like clockwork, the Panthers found offensive rhythm. Runs by Noah Denbo, Chandler Money, Anthony Martin and Adams pushed Corydon Central to the red zone. Facing a third-and-4, the Panthers ran to the end zone only to have the play called back for a holding penalty.
"That's what is frustrating is the holding call was from the backside of the play," Corydon Central coach Aaron Humphrey said. "Once again, you can't do that when two good football teams are playing each other. We had a lot more penalty yards than they did."
North Harrison eventually forced a turnover on downs. Taking a shot with a minute to go, the Cougars nearly won the game in regulation. Fenn hooked up with Whittaker down the sideline for a 45-yard pass completion. Nealy took a shot at a 31-yard field goal but missed.
In overtime, Corydon Central took the ball first, losing yards on its first run. On third down, Adams was rushed by Beach, forcing a rushed incompletion. The Panthers attempted a 23-yard field goal but missed left.
"We lost yardage on the first play, then we saw some pressure on our boot play," Humphrey said. "Had Nolan been able to get outside, I think we had something. But, they brought a blitz off the backside and couldn't get a clean play."
Each team gets a chance to score starting at the 10 in overtime, and North Harrison cut that in half by drawing the Panthers offsides on the first play. Two plays later, Fenn used a QB sneak to score the game-winner from the 1 as pandemonium ensued on and off the field for those in Cougar blue.
"They jumped (offsides), so we ran with Nevil next," Fenn said. "Coach called sneak-10, so I lowered my shoulders and ran as hard as I could. It's the best feeling I've had, hearing everyone scream. As a team, we pushed through adversity and won this game."
Fenn closed with 105 yards passing on 4-of-5 tries. He also rushed for 143 yards, including a 75-yard scamper in the first half.
"Fenn had some good runs and threw the ball nice several times," Williamson said. "That was probably the best game as far as doing everything right for him."
Nevil rushed 15 times for 104 yards, scoring three times.
"They were pretty physical," Nevil said of Corydon Central. "They were ready to hit us in the mouth, but we came back in the fourth quarter and showed this is our territory. We want to impose our will."
Williamson pointed to Nevil as the inspiration.
"(Corydon Central) had all the momentum in the world," he said. "We weren't stopping them, and we weren't tackling. We were hurt. That was probably as hard as I've gotten on a team at halftime since I've been here. It was Nevil's toughness that was the factor, no doubt about it. If the game balls weren't $90 apiece, I'd give him the game ball."
Corydon Central had positives in the ground game and forcing first-half turnovers. After a Nevil TD to open the game, Corydon Central later scored when Money gave his best Lamar Jackson impression by hurdling a defender for a 23-yard touchdown.
The Panthers then forced a North Harrison turnover with 1:21 to go before half, taking over at their own 20. Marching quickly down the field, Denbo and Money had several big gainers. As time was expiring, Adams connected with Money for a catch-and-run from 26 yards out.
"Chandler made a heck of a play not only catching the ball, but making a few guys miss to go score," Humphrey said. "That carried into half and the whole third quarter."
Denbo closed with 159 yards, while Money tallied 154.
"I thought we ran the ball well," Humphrey said. "A time or two, we got behind the chains and didn't convert third downs well. That's a stat we always talk about, winning third downs, and we didn't do a good enough job offensively or defensively."
Through the injuries and deficits, the Cougars pieced things together to rally in the final quarter after Corydon Central scored twice out of halftime.
"We were already a thin team, then we come out of the Scottsburg game with three injuries," Troncin said. "We come out here and we get three more injuries. These underclassmen showed they can come together as a team and force our way through the injuries. It all has to do with the team."
The North Harrison win was the sixth in a row over its rival.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," Williamson said. "They needed this to bond together as far as toughness and leadership. There was not a lot of talking, but doing. That's what happened in the second half. It was Nevil leading us. Fenn leading us. Troncin leading us. It was their toughness."
Humphrey credited North Harrison's discipline.
"I'm proud of our kids," he said. "Tonight's game boiled down to North Harrison is an experienced team that is two years removed from winning a conference title. Their kids knew how to close out the game. We showed our inexperience from that standpoint. We're still learning how to win in these moments. We want to learn and build from it. We want to play our best football against (Scottsburg) next Friday."
Corydon Central (1-2, 0-2 Mid-Southern Conference) will return home to face Scottsburg on Friday, while North Harrison (2-1, 2-1) will host Charlestown.
Corydon Central 7 8 12 0 0 27
North Harrison 8 7 0 12 6 33
NH Aaron Nevil 3 run (Nevil run); CC Chandler Money 23 run (Dylan Higginbotham kick); NH Jarrett Fenn 75 run (Matt Nealy kick); CC Money 26 pass from Nolan Adams (Money run); CC Noah Denbo 43 run (kick blocked); CC Adams 2 run (run failed); NH Nevil 7 run (run failed); NH Nevil 8 run (kick blocked); NH Fenn 1 run (no attempt).