October 02, 2019Going into the game against host Eastern (Pekin), the North Harrison football team had blocked out the two weeks before against Charlestown and Brownstown Central. Friday night against the Musketeers, North Harrison fans chewed their fingernails again, but the Cougars overcame some critical turnovers and a stubborn Eastern team to score a 24-16 win.
"It feels good to win," said North Harrison coach Mark Williamson. "What we've been through in the last three weeks, to get a win, it just feels good."
Eastern had the first possession but went three-and-out having to punt away to the Cougars, who returned the ball to the 34-yard line. Aaron Nevil and Jarrett Fenn ran the ball on the ground for eight plays, and Fenn scored a touchdown from 15 yards that was quickly negated by a Cougars' penalty that put the ball back on the 20. Fenn and Nevil moved the ball to the 7-yard line, with Nevil converting a first down on fourth-and-1. From there, Fenn went on to score. Nevil converted a two-point conversion, and the Cougars were up 8-0.
Eastern didn't score the remainder of the quarter but countered at the beginning of the second. The Musketeers kept the ball on the ground on their second drive with Devin LePointe and Demetrius McKinley doing most of the damage. On the second play of the second period, McKinley threw to Justin Carr for a 32-yard score. McKinley followed up with the conversion, and the game was tied at 8.
On their next possession, it looked like the Cougars were on their way to a second touchdown. Dawson Howell returned the kickoff to the 38 for good field position. Fenn was sacked on the next play, however, losing five yards. Zachary Taylor converted for a first down on the next play, running to the Eastern 46. The Cougars again kept the ball on the ground to the 13.
On the next play, Nevil was just two steps away from the end zone when he got hit by Carr, forcing a fumble. The ball bounced twice and ended up in the end zone but with Eastern's Mason Martin falling on it for the turnover. Eastern bulldozed its way down field as the clocked ticked away, moving the ball to the red zone. With 13.7 seconds left, McKinley ran in to score and got the conversion for a 16-8 Musketeers' lead at halftime.
"We did everything we could to get them mentally ready for this game," Williamson said. "They didn't believe it was going to be a war, and I knew it was going to be a war."
Williamson said Nevil's fumble was just hard football.
"That was a big play but, as many times as he's carried it, it's going to happen now and then," said the North Harrison coach. "Nobody works on ball security as (hard as) my running backs and we don't fumble much, and he wasn't even given a stink eye by me. I know what he's about."
North Harrison received the ball to begin the second half and immediately worked to get back on track. There was no change in tactics as the Cougars again moved the ball on the ground after starting on their own 39. Again, it was the Nevil and Fenn show as the pair moved the ball downfield. Just under three minutes into the period, Nevil was caught in a Musketeers' mob that tried to bring him down. Somehow the North Harrison junior stayed upright and bulled his way to open field. He put six more on the board with a 24-yard touchdown. Nevil also got the conversion to tie the game at 16.
"There were no adjustments," Williamson said. "It was just our physicality. It improved the second half. It was the first time we've really bowed our necks, in my opinion, and hit somebody. That was the second half of this game."
Eastern turned the ball over to the Cougars on a fumble just three plays into the next possession. North Harrison, however, failed to convert on the turnover. Eastern also failed to score on its next possession, leaving the game tied at 16 after three quarters. At the beginning of the fourth, Nevil ran two plays from the 1-yard line, but the Eastern stand kept Nevil from breaking the plane. On fourth-and-inches, Fenn took an attempt but failed to score, giving the ball to the Musketeers.
Eastern ran four plays then called timeout. On the next play, the Musketeers had a fumble that was picked up by North Harrison's Colby Whittaker. The Cougars' junior ran the ball in from five yards out for six. Nevil finished another conversion, and North Harrison had a 24-16 lead with 7:48 remaining in the game.
Eastern, however, still had another chance to level the game. The Musketeers ran three plays then converted a 21-yard pass play between McKinley and Anthony McBride for a first down. McKinley converted again on the next play, this time to Elijah Hamann, to the Eastern 44. LaPointe ran five of the next six plays down to the 12.
Eastern got caught on a false start on the next play, the ball going back to the 17. McKinley gained a yard on the next play, then LaPointe got three more to the 13. North Harrison's Dawson Howell broke up a critical Eastern pass play leading to fourth down. The Musketeers tried to pass again, but this time the Cougars were there to intercept with less than a minute to go. The Cougars took a knee on the next play, and North Harrison went home with a 24-16 win.
"We're struggling as a football team, and this win is big," Williams said.
Nevil carried the ball 23 times for the Cougars for 165 yards rushing, and Fenn ran 58 yards on 14 carries. Fenn was 0-for-3 passing.
Devin LaPointe ran the ball 24 times for 130 yards on the ground, while Demetrius McKinley carried 16 times for 65 yards. McKinley also completed two pass attempts for 36 yards.
"We needed this and, hopefully, this will get us out of our funk," Williamson said. "We've got homecoming next week against Silver Creek so, hopefully, we can put on a good performance."
North Harrison 8 0 8 8 – 24
Eastern Pekin 0 16 0 0 – 16
NH – Jarrett Fenn 7 run (Aaron Nevil conv); EP – Justin Carr 32 pass from Demetrius McKinley (McKinley conv); EP – McKinley 4 run (McKinley conv); NH – Nevil 24 run (Nevil conv); NH – Colby Whittaker 5 fumble return (Nevil conv).