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Cougars rally late against South Spencer

Cougars rally late against South Spencer
Cougars rally late against South Spencer
North Harrison junior running back Sawyer Wetzel runs the ball through a pair of South Spencer defenders during the Cougars’ 29-26 win over the Rebels Friday night. Photo by Brandon Miniard
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]

Despite starting its season 1-4 over its first five games, the North Harrison football team has started to show signs of salvaging the 2021 campaign.

Beginning in Week 6, the Cougars notched their second win of the season over Mid-Southern Conference bottom-feeder Eastern (Pekin) 42-6, notching their highest scoring game of the year. They followed that with a tight 27-24 loss to MSC-powerhouse Silver Creek, lost primarily due to penalties.

As the postseason looms on the horizon, the Cougars continued their play-off tuneup as they hosted South Spencer in Week 8 for their home finale of Friday night football. According to Cougars’ athletic director Hal Pearson, the matchup between the Cougars and Rebels was the first for either program. Powered primarily by the legs of junior running back Sawyer Wetzel, the Cougars used a fourth-quarter surge to run by the Rebels 29-26 in Ramsey.

After the Cougars’ opening drive resulted in a turnover on downs despite a 47-yard opening run from junior wide receiver Riley Schneider, the Rebels slowly marched down the field toward the Cougars’ end zone. With just over three minutes to go in the period, Rylan Davis split the Cougars’ defense on the right side to complete a five-yard rushing touchdown. A Jaxson Hadley PAT followed to give the Rebels an early 7-0 lead to end the first quarter.

“We couldn’t convert on the first drive of the game when we had a fourth and one; that hurt,” Cougars’ head coach Mark Williamson said.

The Cougars answered almost 2-1/2 minutes into the second quarter. Stationed just in front of their own 35-yard line on first and 10, Wetzel began his offensive assault by slipping through the middle before traveling 63 yards to the Rebels’ end zone. Courtesy of a PAT from junior kicker Landon McIntire, the Cougars didn’t need much time to tie the contest at 7-7.

Not even two minutes later, the Rebels took the lead back when Trey Burden was the recipient of a pitch play before taking the rock to the house on a 42-yard rushing touchdown. After holding the Cougars on their following drive, the Rebels were set to return the punt, only to fumble the ball, allowing the Cougars to regain possession.

Wetzel made the Rebels pay for their miscue by rushing another 17 yards before being taken down at the Rebels’ one-yard line. Senior quarterback Colt Beach completed the drive with a one-yard run up the middle despite the Rebels’ defensive line in his way. After another successful PAT from McIntire, both sides eventually retreated to the locker room tied at 14.

The third quarter opened with the Rebels marching down the field before quarterback Garin Kenney found Kyle Olmstead in the Cougars’ end zone for the Rebels’ only passing score of the evening. The Cougars’ defense came through as they blocked the PAT to keep the deficit to 20-14.

The final quarter began with momentum on the Cougars’ side as junior wide receiver Kaleb Kellems snagged a pass attempt from Kenney. The ball was in the Cougars’ claws for only a few plays before Ty Brown took the pigskin back on an errant Beach pass before trotting 35 yards for the return touchdown.

Despite now trailing 26-14, the Cougars’ resolve did not falter. After returning the subsequent kick, the senior running back powered the Cougars into Rebels’ territory on a 47-yard run. A few plays later, Wetzel brought the Cougars within two on a two-yard rushing score followed by McIntire’s third PAT of the night.

After holding the Rebels on their next drive, the Cougars had just over five minutes to create one more productive drive. Wetzel ensured that production came in merely a few seconds as he fought his way past Rebels’ defenders down the right sideline before trotting 68 yards into the Rebels’ end zone to give the Cougars their first lead of the evening. Colten Hickman followed with a flawless two-point conversion to give the Cougars a 29-26 lead.

“(South Spencer’s) defense didn’t show anything we haven’t seen before, so just put everything together as a team to push them back,” Beach said. “The play was just a basic isolation with a lot of great blocking up front and some (darn) good running by Sawyer.”

While the Rebels had five minutes to retake the lead, the Cougars’ defense made multiple stops, including Kellems breaking up a possible Kenney pass for a first down to help the Cougars secure their third victory of the season.

“We said (after the interception return), ‘Stay with it, stay with it’,” Williamson said. “Sawyer’s long, quick touchdown run really helped. The interception return put us down two scores, then for Sawyer to erase that, now we got to get a stop, so we used a timeout. Then on three and out, we got the ball back and Sawyer got another big run.”

Both sides were relatively even in most statistics, yet the Cougars had the clear advantage on the ground. All 356 of their total offensive yards came by way of the running game, led by Wetzel’s 212 rushing yards on 26 carries, notching three of the Cougars’ four scores on the night, followed by Hickman’s 63 yards on eight carries. While not recording any yards in the air, Beach compensated with 19 yards on seven carries along with the only rushing touchdown not recorded by Wetzel. A recurring weakness all year long, the Cougars had to deal with losing a total of 25 yards on four penalties.

The Rebels had a more balanced attack as they recorded 290 yards, 175 of which came on the ground. The other 115 came on a 13-for-20 passing night for Kenney, who also recorded a passing touchdown and an interception. Davis led the Rebels’ running game with 117 yards on 27 carries, while Olmstead led the Rebels’ receiving corps with 40 yards and a touchdown reception. The Rebels were much more efficient on downs as they went 8 for 14 on third down conversions, while the Cougars were only 1 for 9. Oddly enough, the Cougars were more efficient on fourth downs, going 2 for 5, while the Rebels failed to convert their only fourth down.

“We’re still making some of the same mistakes with stupid penalties. Penalties are what killed us against Silver Creek last week; we win that game if we don’t make those penalties,” Williamson said. “We had what we call a reroute away from the ball with Garrett Schroder, and it was a cheap shot. Wetzel had a late hit, but he didn’t hit the guy hard. He said he couldn’t stop himself, so if he just put his hands up and hit him with his chest, the officials wouldn’t have called it. This team just can’t help itself sometimes; we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Having now won two of their last three contests, the Cougars (3-5, 2-5 MSC) are set to conclude the regular season Friday when they travel to Clarksville to confront Providence. The Pioneers (4-4) may not be one of the better teams in the Kentuckiana area, but they may prove to be another tough matchup as they came back to defeat Corydon Central 34-27. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

South Spencer               7     7     6     6 – 26

North Harrison               0   14     0   15 – 29

South Spencer – Rylan Davis 5 yd run (Jaxson Hadley PAT); North Harrison – Sawyer Wetzel 63 yd run (Landon McIntire PAT); South Spencer – Trey Burden 42 yd run (Hadley PAT); North Harrison – Colt Beach 1 yd run (McIntire PAT); South Spencer – Kyle Olmstead 9 yd pass from Garin Kenney (PAT Blocked); South Spencer – Ty Brown 35 Interception Return (2-PT Conversion Failed); North Harrison – Wetzel 2 yd run (McIntire PAT); North Harrison – Wetzel 68 yd run (Colten Hickman 2-PT Conversion).

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