By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
The 2013 football season has been a special one indeed for the Pulaski County Maroons.
Johnny Hines and crew posted the school’s first ever undefeated season at 10-0 this year, and after two impressive beatdown victories over Whitley County and Perry County Central in the playoffs, Pulaski County comes into this week with a perfect, 12-0 mark.
However, to win the school’s second regional title all time, the Maroons are going to have to win 13 games in a row.
And, it won’t be an easy task tonight, as the 10-1 Madison Southern Eagles roll into PC Field for a high stakes contest, with the winner claiming the Region 4 championship in Class 5A and moving on to next week’s Semi-State round of the playoffs.
In the Eagles, Pulaski will face the only team that was able to give the Maroons a competitive game this year.
Way back on October 11th in Berea, Hines and crew scored 21 points in the first stanza at Madison Southern, and then held on for a hard-fought, 21-18 victory over the Eagles.
The 21 points scored by PC in that game was by far the Maroons lowest point total of the season.
Pulaski County comes into this week having scored 532 points on the year — that’s more points than any other team in Class 5 A.
The lowest point total by the Maroons this season other than the Madison Southern game was a 38-7 victory over Montgomery County in the second week of the year. So, that kind of gives one an idea of exactly what Madison Southern was able to accomplish against PC in round one between these two Class 5 A Titans.
“I think you have to give them a lot of credit defensively for how they played us in that first game,” stated coach Hines.
“They’ve got a very good, athletic defensive line, and their linebackers flow well and tackle well, and then their secondary is pretty solid,” continued the Maroon coach. “They’re a good football team all the way around. We had some trouble executing some of the things that we wanted to execute. We were up 21-10 most of the second half, and I think I kind of fussed at myself, because we kind of got into a conservative mode.”
Regardless of what happened in that first meeting, Hines knows that tonight is going to be a very special game between two outstanding football teams.
“It’s pretty obvious that these are the two best teams in this 5 A Region, and I guess it’s only right that we should play again,” pointed out the Pulaski County head coach.
So, how does this game shake out in the end?
Of course in talking about the Eagles, you have to start with All-State running back — arguably the best running back in Kentucky — Damien Harris.
Harris — a junior who has committed to play his college football at the University of Michigan — has had a monstrous 2013 campaign.
Harris comes into tonight’s contest with 2,470 yards rushing on the season, averaging over 12 yards per carry, and 39 rushing touchdowns.
And against the Maroons in his career, Harris has put up some gaudy numbers as well.
In three career games against PC, Harris has carried the football a total of 63 times for 676 yards and 9 touchdowns, averaging just a shade over 10 yards per pop.
In that earlier meeting in Berea last month, Harris carried the ball 32 times for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns against PC, albeit in another losing effort.
And, maybe that’s the most important stat of all between these two clubs.
The simple fact remains that in three career games against Pulaski County, Damien Harris and the Eagles are winless, at 0-3.
PC won the ‘11 game at PC Field in Harris’ freshman season 61-43, and followed that up with last season’s, 37-36 thriller at Madison Southern.
This year PC held on yet again by that 21-18 margin on the Eagles home turf, making Harris winless in three tries against PC.
Pulaski County is making its fourth regional championship appearance in the past five seasons tonight, but it’s only the second time the game has been played at PC Field — a venue where the Maroons simply do not lose.
In ‘09, Hines and crew won at home in the regional title game over Letcher County Central, and to get that second regional crown this evening, the PC head coach knows what his club must do that’s much easier said than done — slow down and contain Damien Harris.
“Damien Harris is the best running back that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” remarked the PC coach.
“He reminds me of my old teammate, Pete Venable,” Hines continued. “He’s got the things that Pete had, and number one, that’s outstanding speed. He’s the fastest guy on the field, so if he breaks free, he’s going to go all the way — nobody’s going to run him down. Secondly, he’s a big, strong kid that can break a tackle, and that’s what was so great about Pete.”
Going into tonight’s game PC has some numbers on its side as well.
Number one, since the conclusion of the 2006 season, Pulaski County has posted a 37-4 record at home, which includes a 6-0 mark this year.
In post season play, the Maroons have never tasted defeat on their home field.
Pulaski won its first ever playoff home game way back in 2003 in a win over Bullitt East, and there have been 11 more home playoff wins since that first one — all of which began in the 2007 season.
Sophomore quarterback Riley Hall has had a tremendous season throwing the football, hitting on 158-245 pass attempts for 2,272 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Hall has also amassed 699 yards on the ground for 5 more TD’s, and he’s had plenty of help in the PC backfield.
Caleb Cox has rebounded from back to back knee surgeries on both knees over the past two seasons, to lead Pulaski County in rushing this season with 785 yards and 5 TD’s.
Aaron Smith meanwhile has been a beast running the football all season long, rushing for 587 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Yes, Damien Harris is a very special talent, and is one day headed to big boy football in the Big 10 Conference, but the Maroons will have plenty of offensive firepower on display this evening as well.
“We’re awfully happy with them, and we’re very proud of our kids and what they’ve accomplished this year,” stated Hines.
“Our offensive line wasn’t supposed to be that good this year, but when you look at all the yards and points we’ve ran up this year, somebody’s blocking somebody,” added the Maroon coach. “Jake Johnson and George Gregory, and you throw in Jesse Whitaker, Caleb Cox, and Aaron Smith have all caught the ball really well this year. There’s a lot of different guys that can get in on the action and make plays to help us win games, and I’m proud of that.”
Of course in a close game if tonight’s game is indeed close, the nod would have to go to the Maroons simply because they will be playing this game on natural grass at home.
PC is 37-4 in its last 41 home games over the past seven seasons, and Hines says he’s hopeful his team will be playing in front of a huge and partisan crowd this evening.
“I hope we have a great crowd, and we were a little disappointed with our crowd last week,” said Hines. “It wasn’t a very big crowd, but they were very, very loud and that was great.”
“We need a loud, rowdy crowd, and we think it will be a great night for football even if it is raining,” he added. “I can’t imagine there’s anything that’s going to be more exciting in Somerset on Friday night than coming over to PC Field and watch these two teams battle it out for a regional title. It’s going to be a black out, and we want all PC fans to come out and wear black. Hopefully at about 7:30 p.m., that bad moon will be rising out of beautiful ‘Maroons Creek’ and we’ll get our mojo going right from the outset.”
Tonight’s game between Pulaski County and Madison Southern will kick off from PC Field beginning at 7:30 p.m.