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Cougars beat adversity, Panthers

Big Cat Classic

September 10, 2008

North Harrison's Matt Bruderle points to the sky in honor of Ryan Sawver and Patrick Fowler after running in for the winning touchdown in Cougars' 36-29 win over Corydon Central in the Big Cat Classic. (Photo by Wade Bell)
That's what this year's Big Cat Classic was all about as the North Harrison Cougars took on host Corydon Central Aug. 29. North Harrison had to beat their adversity both on and off the field and, with just 44 seconds left in the game, came out with a 36-29 win.

The adversity off the field came earlier in the week with the deaths of Ryan Shawver, a 2007 graduate, and Patrick Fowler, a former senior who had moved to the Shoals area. When the Cougars took the field for their pre-game warm-ups, the team was unusually quiet and knew they had a job to do.

"We're playing this for them," Matt Johnson said before the game, who was making his first start as the Cougars' new quarterback.

"Everybody, it affected the whole school and practices," T.J. Sanders said. "We had some guys break down during the week, but this win makes it all better."

Corydon went three-and-out on the first possession, but for North Harrison, it was obvious that their minds were not completely on the game as the Cougars fumbled the ball over on third down. The Panthers ended up giving the ball over on downs, but on North Harrison's first play of its second possession, Corydon's Dylan Harl intercepted a Johnson pass and ran 37 yards for the score, Corydon taking a 7-0 lead.

It looked like the Cougars were going to get into the end zone on their next possession, driving the ball down to the 13-yard line. On third-and-one, however, the Cougars fumbled again for a third turnover in the period. Fortunately for North Harrison, the Panthers gave up the ball, again going three-and-out, and a short Panther punt put the Cougars in excellent field possession on the Corydon 26-yard line. Five plays later, Johnson took the ball in from six yards, and Zack Stephenson got the extra point for a 7-7 tie.

In the second period, Corydon went three-and-out again, but the Panthers got another chance when the Cougars coughed up the ball for their fourth turnover of the half. Richard Armstrong fired to Brandon Dunaway on the Panthers' first play and Corydon had a 13-7 lead.

Marcus Stone brought the Cougars out to the Corydon 40-yard line on the return, but North Harrison was forced to punt away on fourth-and-nine to go.

The North Harrison defense held on the Panthers' next drive, with Corydon giving the ball up on downs. Eleven plays later, the Cougars found the end zone again as Matt Bruderle ran in from 12 yards with 59 seconds left in the half. Stephenson got his second extra point of the night, and North Harrison left the field at halftime with a 14-13 lead.

Bruderle said the first half turnovers made the game that much tougher.

"The first couple fumbles really got to me," he said. "I didn't really know what to do then. If I didn't have my teammates out there, I probably would have broke down, but I just thank my teammates."

"Turning over the football was a nightmare," Cougar coach Jason Mullis said. "These boys are going to be carrying a football for as long as they can. If I have to start strapping it to their arms, I will. Honestly, all I thought about (was) the adversity our school dealt with and how the team and school with be stronger in the end."

North Harrison came out in the third period, and in less than four minutes Matt Yeats ran the ball in from six yards for a 22-13 Cougar lead.

Corydon returned the ball out to its own 34-yard line, but an unsportsman penalty pushed the Panthers back to their own 19. The Cougars forced Corydon to punt, but North Harrison then fumbled the ball for a fifth turnover.

Corydon gave up the ball on downs, but on the Cougars' first play of the next drive the ball slipped out of the hands of Tony Powell for a sixth turnover.

Seth Rennirt worked the ball for Corydon for the next several plays. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Rennirt went into the end zone, only to see the touchdown called back because of a penalty. Rennirt fought to get a first down, but the Cougar defense held again and North Harrison took over.

Seven plays later, the Cougars were in the end zone again, Powell running in from five yards. With 6:50 to go in the game the Cougars had a 29-13 lead and seemed to be in total control.

But the Panthers were not going to go down so easy. With 6:33 to go, Armstrong let go with a 66-yard bomb to Brandon Dunaway for a touchdown. Armstrong also threw a two-point conversion pass to Harl, and North Harrison's lead was cut to eight.

Three plays into their next possession, the Cougars fumbled the ball with 5:38 to go and the Panthers recovered on the Cougar 39-yard line. Armstrong threw a 34-yard strike to Dunaway. Rennirt got the call again and ran in from five yards for the score. Armstrong passed to Garett Ross for the conversion and the game was tied with 5:26 left.

"With the way the game went, with the adversity we dealt with, I was thinking, 'How much more can we deal with?' " Mullis said. "I am sitting there during the game, up two scores and our defense played a great game except for a few bombs, and I'm thinking we should put this away, but we kept getting knocked down. But my guys kept getting up and that means a lot to me and the school."

North Harrison pushed the ball on the ground on its final drive. With 2:04 to go, Corydon was hit with a costly facemask penalty to put the Cougars on the 11-yard line with a first down. Johnson ran to the Corydon 8-yard line, and the Panthers called a quick timeout with 1:47 to go.

Bruderle moved the ball to the one on the next play for first down, and the Panthers called a second timeout. When the Cougars reached the one-foot line, Corydon called it final timeout with 1:26 left.

Mullis told Johnson to take a knee on the next play, the ball moved back to the two for third-and-goal. With 44 seconds left, Bruderle took the ball in for the touchdown, pointing to the sky as he ran in. Stephenson got the kick, and North Harrison had the 36-29 win.

"We had two guys pass away this week, Ryan and Pat," Bruderle said. "I didn't know them that well, but this game was for them. Every time I scored, it was for them."

Mullis said the win shows his team can play under all kinds of pressure.

"This game epitomized that," Mullis said. "We've never put the ball on the ground that much. This team ran all over these guys. If we could have gotten rid of the turnovers, this game wouldn't have been this close. I feel we're a lot better than Corydon.

"We overcame our mental mistakes. But it kind of comes with everything we've dealt with. It was a good thing to say our school dealt with adversity, our team dealt with adversity, and we overcame that. It shows, we can overcome these losses."

"The kids left it on the field tonight," Corydon coach Jason Timberlake said. "They played with a lot of heart. We won the turnover battle. We couldn't stop the run today. It's hard to win a ball game when you can't stop the run."

Sanders said the game was a matter of the Cougars keeping their composure when everything seemed to be going wrong.

"The brotherhood, staying together," Sanders said. "No one got mad when we fumbled, we told each other to forget about it next time and keep going. Tony Powell, Matt Bruderle, yeah they fumbled a little bit, but the brotherhood behind them told them to keep going. It's Corydon number one, and Ryan and Patrick made it a school thing."

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