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Pirates fight off Cougars, 33-15

October 29, 2008
Charlestown fell behind 7-0 for the second time in two weeks to visiting North Harrison Friday, but rallied with three second quarter touchdowns, topping the Cougars 33-15 in the opening round of Class 3A Sectional 23 football action.

The Cougars (3-6, 3-2 Mid-Southern Conference) mounted an 80-yard, 22-play scoring drive on their first possession, after the opening Pirate kickoff found the end zone for a touchback. North Harrison, which had not met Charlestown in post-season play since 1996, held the ball the entire first quarter and collected six first downs, relying solely on its ground game. The two teams met in MSC action at Charlestown on Oct. 10.

Junior quarterback Matt Johnson did the honors for the Cougars with a 1-yard scoring plunge on the first play of the second period. A Zach Stephenson extra-point kick made it 7-0. Sophomore tailback Matt Bruderle, who entered the contest with 1,463 rushing yards on the season, carried the ball 10 times on the initial drive for 49 yards.

Cougar coach Jason Mullis said he liked the way his team established the running game and controlled possession early.

"That (ball control) was something we wanted to do," he said. "I thought tonight we showed our identity. I was really pleased with our first drive."

Charlestown's first possession was short-lived, when on second-and-one, the exchange between senior quarterback Damon Vest and senior tailback Cameron Metzger was fumbled and recovered by North Harrison. North Harrison failed to capitalize, however, when three running plays produced no positive yardage.

It didn't take long for the Pirates, who improved to 7-3 (4-1 MSC), to regroup as they set up shop at their own 34.

Junior running back Josh Graham ripped off a 27-yard run to take it to the Cougar 39. Metzger added two and senior running back Mike Blackford tacked on seven more to make it third-and-one at the Cougar 30. Senior running back Mike Blackford put the Pirates on the board with a 15-yard touchdown run at the 7:38 mark in the second quarter. Metzger's run was successful for the two-point conversion, putting Charlestown on top, 8-7.

North Harrison went three-and-out on its next possession and Charlestown regained the ball at the Cougar 49. Another long run by Graham helped move the chains this time, as he went for 24 yards on second-and-eight to bring his team to the 23. Five plays later, Graham found pay dirt with a 3-yard scoring run, making it 14-7, with 3:17 to go in the half.

North Harrison shot itself in the foot on its next possession, when on fourth-and-19, Johnson's pitch got away and was recovered by Charlestown at the Cougar 24.

Graham, who paced the Pirate rushing attack with 145 yards, collected his third run of 20 or more yards on the Pirates' third scoring drive of the second period, when he took it in for his second score of the game from 21 yards out at the 1:15 mark. Metzger's two-point conversion run was stopped by North Harrison's Thomas Green and the Pirates claimed a 20-7 halftime advantage.

The Pirate running trio of Graham, Blackford and Metzger kept North Harrison on edge defensively in the second period and a costly turnover and a couple penalties also helped erode the Cougar edge.

"They came out in the wishbone and pounded it at us," Mullis said. "They knew our weaknesses and they've got a lot more horses than we do."

Charlestown opened the third period with more of the same. After a 5-yard run by Metzger, Graham got loose on the left side again, breaking free for a 38-yard sprint before being brought down at the 1. Metzger scored on a 1-yard run on the next play. A failed conversion made it 26-7, with 9:54 to go in the third period.

In the fourth quarter, on first-and-15, Bruderle's pass was picked off by Vest, who broke several tackles on this way to a 54-yard return for a touchdown. Ariel Stephens' extra-point kick made it 33-7, with 11:44 to go in the game.

North Harrison mounted a 10-play, 79-yard drive, keyed by a 50-yard Bruderle run for a first down on third-and-seven. Bruderle's scamper set the Cougars up at the Pirate 25. Junior running back Corey Isaac picked up six yards on first down and another first down with a 5-yard carry on second-and-four.

Isaac got the call and took it three yards to the 1, and on the next play punched it in for the score. Senior Levi Simpson's conversion pass was good to junior Michael Cundiff to make it 33-15 with 6:17 to go.

North Harrison recovered an onside kick and took possession again at the Pirate 49. Isaac picked up a big first down on fourth-and-four from the Pirate 45 with a 6-yard run. The Cougars would later surrendered the ball on downs.

Mullis said his team's youthful emotions and lack of depth may have caught up with it late in the game. He praised the hard running of Isaac and Powell and also pointed to the effort of Bruderle, who led the Cougars with 132 yards on 23 carries.

"I was really proud of the way our kids came out and played," he said. "I hate that our seniors had to go out like this."

Mullis said he hopes in the off-season the Cougars are able to develop another dimension of their offense, by establishing a more reliable passing game. He said the cupboard is far from bare for the running game, as Isaac and Bruderle both return next season.

"We need to get a throwing game," Mullis added.

North Harrison carried the ball 55 times and finished with 231 yards total offense, all on the ground. The Cougars attempted six passes, but none were completed. They racked up 14 first downs and were whistled for five penalties for 21 yards. Charlestown finished with 250 yards, also all rushing. The Pirates had 10 first downs and were not penalized in the game.

The win gives Charlestown the opportunity to hit the road for a match-up at Heritage Hills (6-3) in semi-final action Friday. The Patriots eliminated Salem 28-0 on Friday.

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