By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
Like every other opponent that has stood in front of the Madison Southern Eagles in 2012, the Pulaski County Maroons had trouble containing or even slowing down for that matter Eagles All-State candidate Damien Harris on Friday night.
Harris had a monster game for the Eagles with first place on the line for both clubs within Class 5A, District 7.
However, with the game on the line in the waning seconds and Madison Southern driving for a hard-fought victory, Pulaski County got its stop — holding the Eagles off the scoreboard inside the game’s final minute, helping Johnny Hines’ club take a strangle hold on the district with a heart-pounding, thrilling, electrifying — take your pick — 37-36 victory over the Eagles.
Harris rushed for a game-high 260 yards on 24 carries while scoring five touchdowns, but not to be outdone, with his club trailing Madison Southern 36-24 with seven minutes left in the contest, Pulaski County’s Tyler Goins exploded for an 80-yard pass reception for a TD from quarterback Riley Hall, as well as a 53-yard scamper for another touchdown, that gave the Maroons the lead for good.
It was that kind of night in Berea in a wild and wacky football game that once again saw Hines and company work some fourth quarter magic late in a game for the second week in a row.
So coach, what about yet, another late comeback for a win by a young team that has developed a ‘refuse to lose’ mentality?
With all the youth on this team, you can now refer to Pulaski County’s football team as ‘The Cardiac Kids’, thanks to their ability to take every game right down to the wire.
“This team has got a lot of resolve — this team full of winners,” stated Hines. “They’re winners in their personalities and their character, and character shows when you’re in that kind of position like we were in once again tonight.”
That position Pulaski County found itself in last night was a very familiar one indeed.
Coming off of last week’s 28-21 win on the road at North Laurel — a game PC trailed 21-0 midway through the third period — the Maroons had the Eagles right where they wanted them with 7:00 to go in the game on Friday night in Berea — PC was down by double digits.
After Harris’ fifth rushing touchdown of the night — this one on a two-yard run — Madison Southern had a 36-24 over PC at that juncture.
After Garrison Watts’ ensuing kickoff that drove Pulaski County’s Tyler Goins into the end zone, the Maroons had the ball first and 10 at their own 20-yard line, down by 12 points.
It was time to work some late-game magic, and Riley Hall and company did just that.
Hall — on the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff — hit Goins out in the left flat and the PC senior did the rest.
Goins raced 80 yards basically untouched for a score, trimming the deficit to 36-31 with 6:41 left in the game.
Then, the PC defense came up big.
With the Eagles driving, Pulaski County forced a Madison Southern fumble — the only turnover of the contest — and the Maroons recovered the ball with 4:14 remaining on the clock.
A few plays later, Goins gave his club the lead for good with a 53-yard scamper with 3:35 left in the contest — virtually untouched yet again — putting PC on top 37-36.
“We told our kids before the game to just play hard all night until the final whistle,” pointed out coach Hines.
“I told our guys that if Madison Southern was better than us they’d beat us, and if we were better than them we’d beat them,” added the PC coach. “It was a great effort by everybody that took the field tonight for us. I thought it was a tremendous effort by our defense. (Damien) Harris is as good of a running back as we’ve seen in a long, long time.”
After the two Goins’ touchdowns that put PC back into the lead, the Eagles had one final chance for a victory.
Madison Southern drove the ball downfield to the PC 29-yard line, and was facing a fourth down and two yards to go.
Harris got the carry on the fourth down play and gained a would-be first down, but the Eagles were guilty of a holding call, that set up a fourth and 16 from the PC 43-yard line.
On that fourth down play, quarterback Adam Simpson’s incompletion gave PC the ball, the win, and first place in the district as the lone unbeaten team in District 7 in Class 5A.
So, maybe these Maroons aren’t overrated after all, huh coach?
“I’m proud of our team because we never quit and they continued to come back and work extremely hard,” Hines remarked.
This game was as close as they come, with four lead changes and three ties before the issue was decided in the final minute.
Early on, it was Pulaski County taking a quick lead, thanks to a 46-yard touchdown run by Goins that gave the Maroons 7-0 lead in the first period of play.
However, that lead wouldn’t stand up.
Harris scored the first of his five rushing TD’s of the night with only :09 left in the opening stanza — on a 65-yard romp to the house — that knotted things up at 7-7.
Early in the second frame, the Eagles jumped in front of PC on a Harris 3-yard rushing TD, making it 14-7 in favor of the Eagles.
PC tied things up just before the half, thanks to a two-yard plunge by Goins, making it 14-14 at the intermission.
An Aaron Smith one-yard TD run early in the third frame gave PC a 21-14 lead, but a Harris 26-yard run for a score knotted the game up for the final time of the night at 21-21.
Pulaski County’s Derek Burgett then booted a 23-yard field goal with 1:42 remaining in the third quarter giving Pulaski a 24-21 lead headed into the final frame, before Harris’ back to back TD runs of eight and two yards respectively gave the Eagles a 36-24 lead, setting up some late-game heroics by the Maroons once again.
And, despite the big night from Harris, it was the Pulaski County defense that rose up to the occasion late — when it absolutely had to for a hard-fought victory.
“That’s just a sign of character,” pointed out a very happy coach Hines in describing the Eagles final drive.
“As coach (John) Cain used to say, ‘You have to bow your neck and make a play’, and our defense did just that,” added the Maroons head coach. “I thought Keenan Hall really played well tonight defensively along with Will Mobley — both our defensive ends really jammed up a lot of stuff. Austin Cornett, Mason Helton, and Trent Fiene all played really, really well tonight, as all of our guys did. It was a great effort by everybody, and I’m just so very proud of our team.”
The Maroons will return home next Friday night to face South Laurel at PC Field at 7:30 p.m.
The Cardinals fell at Lincoln County on Friday night by a 63-20 score, to fall to 0-3 in district play and to 1-7 overall.
PC — now 5-2 overall and 3-0 in district play — can wrap up a district championship on Friday evening with a win over the Cardinals.
PC — 7 7 10 13 — 37
MS — 7 7 7 15 — 36
PC — Goins 46 run (Burgett kick)
MS — Harris 65 run (Watts kick)
MS — Harris 3 run (Watts kick)
PC — Goins 2 run (Burgett kick)
PC — Smith 1 run (Burgett kick)
MS — Harris 26 run (Watts kick)
PC — FG Burgett 23
MS — Harris 8 run (Watts kick)
MS — Harris 2 run (Simpson conv. run)
PC — Goins 80 pass from R. Hall (Burgett kick)
PC — Goins 53 run (Conv. run failed)
RUSHING — (PC) Goins 17-163 3 TD, Wooldridge 5-26, R. Hall 5-23. (MS) Harris 24-260 5 TD, Proctor 6-35.
PASSING — (PC) R. Hall 15-23 193 TD. (MS) Simpson 4-9 54.
RECEIVING — (PC) Goins 4-88 TD, Smith 4-47, Cox 3-36. (MS) Linville 2-36.