Cougars win Big Cat Classic in OT
Alan Stewart, Contributing Writer
For the second consecutive season, 48 minutes were not enough to decide a winner of the annual Big Cat Classic. And, for the sixth consecutive season (the seventh overall), this one went Blue: North Harrison 26, Corydon Central 20.
The Cougars (3-0, 3-0 Mid-Southern Conference) have picked up two overtime contests this season, proving they have the moxie to go with their ground-and-pound muscle, buoyed by senior Aaron Nevil’s 173 yards on 34 carries and Colby Whittaker’s 131 yards on 16 carries. North Harrison trailed 6-0 early and 20-14 late before securing the victory in the extra stanza.
“I talk to them a lot about mental toughness and emotional maturity until they are probably sick of it, but they have these tattoos that say ‘NTNC,’ … it’s ‘No Toughness No Championship’ and we talk about that all the time. I think we’ve shown some toughness mentally and physically,” Cougars head coach Mark Williamson said.
Williamson, who is now 4-1 overall in overtime games, heaped praise on Corydon Central for its effort.
“(Corydon) played so hard,” he said. “They are a fine team this year, and they are going to win some games. They are just as good as Salem, and I’d probably put them and us and Salem all in the same boat.”
Panthers coach Aaron Humphrey made no excuses for the loss but pointed out that his team had two turnovers in regulation and threw a game-sealing interception in the end zone.
“Against good teams, you just can’t do that,” he said. “We had two fumbles in the red zone last week against Paoli. When you have two evenly matched teams like that, it comes down to turnovers. I told them all week they are going to limit your possessions with their style, and you just can’t turn it over. Whoever takes care of the football is going to win.
“I’m still proud of the way our kids played tonight; played hard right up to the end,” the Panthers’ coach said.
Corydon Central (1-1, 0-1 MSC) took the early lead after senior Drew Smith gathered a muffed hand-off and raced 62 yards for the scoop-and-score. The PAT run failed, however, and neither club scored the rest of the opening period.
The Cougars hit pay dirt on their opening possession with Nevil notching the first of his touchdowns on a one-yard plunge after being set up for the score on a 23-yard pass from senior Colt Beach to Nevil on the prior play.
The workhorse back said he and his classmates wanted to keep their unblemished high school career record against Corydon Central spotless.
“This one meant a lot for us, the seniors. Seven in a row,” Nevil said. “I’ve got to thank my O-line. It’s all on them. It starts with them. They open up the holes for us.”
Senior Matthew Nealy sent the point-after kick through the uprights for a 7-6 lead with 9:48 left in the half.
After holding Corydon Central to a three-and-out, the Cougars added another score on a 30-yard trip to the end zone by Nevil, who had nine carries on the 12-play drive. Another Nealy point-after set the score at 14-6.
Corydon Central seemed to be on its way to tie the affair deep in enemy territory, but Whittaker picked off a Tyler Fessel pass. The turnover didn’t wind up being overly costly, however, as the Cougars turned the ball over on downs, with Corydon Central senior Chase Straub coming up with a big fourth-down sack to end the march.
Then, Corydon turned to North Harrison’s playbook and drained the clock with its most impressive drive of the night, a 13-play affair that went 65 yards. A steady diet of runs by sophomore Anthony Martin and Chandler Money, coupled with passes from Fessel to Nolan Adams and Koleton Kaiser, set up a one-yard run by Money. The PAT pass failed, but Corydon Central had trimmed the deficit to two, 14-12, with 7:07 left in the third.
After holding North Harrison to a three-and-out, Corydon Central went on the attack again, this time starting from its own 15.
Using the same formula that was successful on its prior drive, the Panthers churned out yard after yard on the legs of Money and Martin and receptions by Adams and Kaiser. The hosts surged ahead two plays into the final period on an eight-yard scoring run by Martin. The Fessel-Adams connection worked on the two-point try to put Corydon Central on top, 20-14, with 11:30 showing.
Corydon Central forced the visitors to turn the ball over on downs but lost an opportunity to build on its lead on a fumble deep in its own territory. The Cougars used the opportunity to go 37 yards in seven plays to tie it on a three-yard run by Nevil. This time Nealy’s kick was wide right.
The Panthers’ final possession ended with a missed field-goal attempt, while North Harrison’s ended on an incomplete pass on fourth down as the horn sounded.
Starting with the ball in OT, Nevil scored from three yards out on his team’s third play. The PAT run failed, giving Corydon Central additional hope that it could pull out the victory.
On second down, Fessel scrambled to his left and lofted a pass to Smith in the back corner of the end zone. Smith and North Harrison sophomore Sawyer Wetzel jumped for the pigskin, but the Cougars had the inside position and was able to snag the interception to secure the win.
“We are pretty resilient. The way it started, we moved the ball well on that first drive and then we fumble the ball — the runner slipped on a hand-off — and they scoop and score and it’s huge to overcome something like that. I thought in the second quarter we kind of took over. I would bet we doubled or tripled their offensive plays and we wore them down, which is what we like to do. But hats off to them. They came out in the second half and put a drive together,” Williamson said. “They wore us out a little bit on that drive and picked it up defensively and stopped us and what we like to do. The thing that really helped us is that we only put the ball on the ground that one time. You can win a lot of games if you don’t beat yourself like that, and we are pretty good at that.”
“I’m proud of the way our kids played right up until the end. Hats off to North Harrison; they did what it took to win. We could have easily laid down. We challenged them at halftime. They came out and answered the bell we gave them. I’m proud of them. I told them afterwards there is a lot of football left to play. We grew up a lot tonight,” Humphrey said. “The bottom line is that you can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself because, in the Mid-Southern Conference, there’s always another good (game) coming. We just have to get back to work on Monday.
“Our seniors wanted it bad,” he said. “Who knows, maybe we will get to see them down the road at sectional.”
The teams each had five penalties with Corydon Central losing 40 yards and North Harrison losing 45. First-down totals were a tale of two halves. Corydon Central had just two in the first half and 13 in the second, while the visiting Cougars had 12 in the first and just six in the second.
The Panthers were led in rushing by Money’s 92 yards and 54 by Martin. In receptions, Kaiser had 31 yards, Adams had 36 and Smith had 15.
Both squads will be on the road Friday night as they return to the gridiron. The Cougars travel to Charlestown (1-2, 1-2 MSC) to debut the Pirates’ brand new turf field, while Corydon Central will take on winless Scottsburg (0-3, 0-3 MSC).
North Harrison 0 14 0 6 6 – 26
Corydon Central 6 0 6 8 0 – 20
Corydon Central – Drew Smith, 62, fumble return (run fail); North Harrison – Aaron Nevil, 1, run (Matthew Nealy kick); North Harrison – Nevil, 30, run (Nealy kick); Corydon Central – Chandler Money, 1, run (pass fail); Corydon Central – Anthony Martin, 8, run (Tyler Fessel pass to Nolan Adams); North Harrison – Nevil, 3, run (kick fail); North Harrison – Nevil, 5, run (run fail).