Lions turn the tables on Cougars, 28-14
By Alan Stewart, Contributing Writer
The tale of the tape from Friday night’s Sectional 32 semifinal came down to points off turnovers: Salem 14, North Harrison 0.
The host Lions (7-2) had a pair of pick sixes, including one at the half-time horn, to turn back North Harrison, 28-14, and advance to the championship game at No. 4-ranked and undefeated (10-0) Southridge on Friday.
Numbers were nearly identical between the two squads with North Harrison tallying 253 total yards (23 passing yards and 230 rushing yards), 18 first downs and three recovered Salem fumbles, while the Lions had 261, 41, 220 and 16, respectfully, with three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.
The Cougars, which ended the season 7-4, including a 26-20 overtime victory over the Lions in Week One, held Salem scoreless in the second half and scored all of their points after the break but found the early hole too deep to climb out of. The 14 points North Harrison posted matched its low on the season.
“They are good. Their (defensive backs) are good and we knew that, but we got ourselves in passing situations. We thought we could take some shots because Salem was playing so tight against the run, especially on play-action,” North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. “Their athletes are just that good where they can take a step up from five yards deep and still cover us. Then, when they caught the ball, we couldn’t tackle them.
“They are a good football team, and we knew that coming in,” he said. “We knew we beat a good team when we beat them 10 weeks ago and, obviously, they got more better than we got better.”
Salem gobbled up half of the opening frame with a 13-play, 63-yard drive that was capped by a 14-yard run around right-end senior
Reese McCoskey with 6:18 left. Jonathan Tally’s point-after kick was true for a 7-0 lead.
North Harrison’s first drive ended after it failed to convert a fourth-and-long, which was one of six attempts on fourth down in the game that failed for the Cougars.
Salem took over at its own 20 and needed eight plays to reach the end zone again, this time on a 41-yard bomb from senior Peyton Arthur to junior Trevon Smedley. Another kick set the match at 14-0.
Four plays into North Harrison’s ensuing possession, McCoskey intercepted Colt Beach and took it to the house from 24 yards out for a 21-0 advantage.
After swapping the ball, North Harrison went to its air attack to try to trim the deficit.
Beach found Aaron Nevil for a 13-yard completion, then added Colby Whittaker and Kaleb Kellems into the reception category to get the ball to midfield. With just a few ticks left in the half, McCoskey snagged a Beach attempt over the middle and zig-zagged his way 72 yards down the field and into the end zone just as the half-time siren sounded for a 28-0 lead.
The Cougars never quit, however.
Opening the second half with the ball, North Harrison turned to its bell-cow back Nevil for all but eight yards of a 68-yard march to paydirt with 7:32 left. The point-after kick by Matthew Nealy ricocheted off the goal post to cut Salem’s lead to 28-6.
North Harrison seemed to get new life after Salem fumbled on its first play of the second half and the visitors recovered; unfortunately, the drive stalled at midfield. The Lions’ next possession also ended with a fumble, with Nealy making the recovery at North Harrison’s 31-yard line.
Both teams swapped possessions again, with Salem’s turns ending with a punt and a fumble, to set up North Harrison’s final score of the season.
Nevil ran the ball seven straight plays and punched in a one-yard plunge with 58.9 seconds left in the contest and added the two-point conversion run for the final 28-14 score.
Nevil, a senior, finished with 48 carries and 213 yards rushing to push his season total (unofficially) to 2,460 yards with 32 touchdowns and 100+ yard games in each contest this season. Whittaker carried three times for 19 yards before exiting the game due to a leg injury.
Defensively, Garrett Schroeder had nine tackles with seven assists, while Nealy, Gavin Bruner and Aiden Combs each had two solos and four assists. Colten Cahill, Noah Marrs and Landon King each had seven assists on the night, while Sergio Perez had two tackles and one tackle for a loss.
“Now it’s back to the weight room, which we didn’t get. We got one 13-week cycle before COVID hit. Hopefully, we can get two cycles in, and that’s a big part of what we do, and we missed a lot of that this season,” Williamson said. “I feel bad for the seniors (Nevil, Nealy, Whittaker, Bruner, Perez and Carson Radcliff). Five of the six seniors start, and the class has one of the best running backs North Harrison has ever had in this program. It’s tough to lose this way. At halftime, we said we had to play perfect. We had to hold them to three-and-outs and we had to score every possession, and we did neither of those two things. Salem made mistakes and kept giving us hope with their mistakes in the second half.”
Williamson noted it was good that the club was able to complete its season, which was up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They have some good memories and, even on a night like this, I think they’ll look back and be proud of what they accomplished.”
North Harrison 0 0 6 8 – 14
Salem 7 21 0 0 – 28
Salem – Reese McCoskey, 14, run (Jonathan Tally kick); Salem – Trevon Smedley, 41, pass from Peyton Arthur (Tally kick); Salem – McCoskey, 24, interception return (Tally kick); Salem – McCoskey, 72, interception return (Tally kick); North Harrison – Aaron Nevil, 1, run (kick failed); North Harrison – Nevil, 1, run (Nevil run).