By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
A week later, the disappointment still remains.
With just four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Madison Southern had the lead and the ball driving down the field against Pulaski County.
With a win that would move them one step closer to the program’s first-ever district title within reach, the Eagles let a victory slip away.
A fumble led to a Pulaski County touchdown and eventually a 37-36 setback.
“It was a disheartening loss,” Southern coach Jon Clark said. “That was definitely a game we thought we should have won. That’s part of turning a program around — learning how to handle success. The had three weeks in a row of success. I think maybe we took things a little too lightly last week.”
As painful as that loss still is, the Eagles know they have to move on.
Southern (4-3, 2-1 district) is set to take on North Laurel (5-3, 2-1) today in Berea. The winner will take over second place in the district behind Pulaski County (5-2, 3-0) and will be in position to play host to first-round Class 5A Playoff game.
“Hopefully, it was a good lesson that we need to come ready to play each week,” Clark said of the loss to Pulaski County. “There hasn’t been a home playoff game here in a long time and that’s something that we set as a goal.”
The Eagles put themselves in position to be at home in the first round of the playoffs by putting together three-straight victories. Southern averaged 53 points a game during that stretch and easily defeated two district opponents on the road — 41-12 at Southwestern and 47-19 at Lincoln County.
Last week, the Eagles got another outstanding performance from standout running back Damien Harris. The sophomore had 272 yards on 23 carries and scored five touchdowns.
It was the first time this season that Harris had carried the ball more than 20 times in a game. The sophomore also contributed on the other side of the ball as well.
“I thought this was one of his better total games,” Clark said of Harris. “There’s things that don’t show up (in the boxscore). He played defense in the second half at corner and played really well. They had a receiver that was really fast and we put Damien on him and he took him out of the game.”
So far this season, Harris has 1,412 yards rushing on 97 attempts. The sophomore is averaging 235 rushing yards a game and has 30 touchdowns (28 rushing , two receiving).
Led by Harris, the Eagles had 450 yards of total offense against Pulaski, 360 yards of which came on the ground.
Still, it was turnovers that turned out to be costly.
The Eagles had committed just one turnover during that three-game winning streak, but gave the ball away four times against the Maroons, including once on a punt and once on a kickoff return.
“You can’t do that and win games,” Clark said of the turnovers. “There’s no excuse for that.”
North Laurel didn’t win a district game last season but comes into the showdown against Southern having won two of its past three games, with the only loss coming against Pulaski County.
Last week, the Jaguars got two rushing touchdowns from Michael Nelson and defeated Southwestern, 17-7.
Nelson has been the main offensive weapon for North Laurel’s run-oriented attack. The junior has rushed for 899 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, while also passing for four touchdowns.
Gabe Blair also has 798 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Cole Lewis has five receiving touchdowns.
“They run the ball,” Clark said of North. “They run the ball with their backs and they run the ball with their quarterback. They make no bones about it. It’s what they do. So, we’ve got to be prepared to stop that.”
Led by senior defensive tackle Rashawn Andrews, the Jaguars’ defense has allowed more than 28 points just once this season. In three district games, North is allowing only 15 points a game.
“North Laurel is a physical team,” Clark said. “They’ve gotten better each week. So, this isn’t going to be an easy game.”
Southern won last year’s game 35-31 in London.