By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
Madison Southern’s Damien Harris is one day headed to the University of Michigan.
More importantly, the Pulaski County Maroons are headed to the Semi State round of the Class 5 A playoffs.
For the second time this season, Johnny Hines and crew had just enough to get past the Eagles and their All-State and highly touted running back.
Quarterback Riley Hall threw three touchdown passes and Aaron Smith ran for a pair of scores, as Pulaski County overcame its largest deficit of the season and won the Class 5 A, Region 4 championship for the second time in school history, thanks to a thrilling, come from behind 32-28 victory over Madison Southern on Friday night at PC Field.
Wow, what a football game.
“This season has just been the stuff that you dream of,” stated a very happy Johnny Hines, after his club ran its record to a perfect, 13-0 on the year with the hard-fought win.
“I’m really proud of our football team,” added the Pulaski County head coach. “They gave us an incredible effort tonight. It wasn’t a well played game due to all the mud and slop, but I think we adapted to it a little bit better than Madison Southern did.”
All year long — and for very good reason — with so many weapons on the roster, the Pulaski County offense has garnered a ton of accolades.
However, in Friday night’s contest with the game on the line, it was the Pulaski County defense that rose up to the challenge and saved the day for the Maroons, giving Hines and company a shot to live another day.
Late in the game with the Maroons clinging to a 32-28 lead, Madison Southern advanced the ball inside the PC 20-yard line with just over four minutes left on the clock.
However, PC’s defense bowed its neck and held the Eagles without a score — holding Madison Southern on a fourth down and 8 play with 1:56 left from the Maroon 16-yard line.
That defensive stand helped the Maroons win regional title number two in the last five seasons.
“I’m really proud of our defensive effort tonight,” stated Hines. “Guys like Jacob Denney and Austin Cornett, and Ricky Maxey who hit Damien Harris with everything he had all night long, Nate Roskind, Will Mobley, Jesse Hudson and Daniel Mink — what a great job all of those guys did tonight.”
Indeed, at crunch time with the game on the line, the Pulaski County defense came up big.
Earlier however, as has been the case in every game this year, it was the Maroon offense that made things happen early and often.
The Maroons took the lead in the first quarter with 5:39 remaining in the stanza, when Hall threw the first of his three touchdown passes on the night — this one a 19-yard strike to George Gregory for a 6-0 lead.
However, Madison Southern and their All-World running back Damien Harris would respond.
Harris scored the first of his three TD’s in the contest just over a minute after PC’s initial score on a 12-yard run, and after a Casey Dionne conversion run, it was the Eagles leading PC by an 8-6 margin.
Aaron Smith would then score on an 11-yard run late in the first quarter, giving the Maroons a 12-8 lead through one period of play.
In the second stanza, it was the Eagles that put some big time pressure on Pulaski County, by taking full advantage of a pair of crucial mistakes by the Maroons.
Hall fumbled the ball away for PC’s lone turnover of the night at the Maroon 7-yard line, and a few plays later, Dionne scored on a 1-yard plunge giving the Eagles a 16-12 lead after a conversion run by Logan Coomer.
On PC’s next drive, the Maroons were forced to punt, but Christian Coots shanked the punt, giving the Eagles a first and 10 at the PC 36-yard line.
Moments later Harris scored on a 3-yard run, and Madison Southern was up 22-12 — giving Pulaski County its largest deficit in a game all season long.
No worries though.
Just before the half ended, Hall methodically marched his club downfield, with the drive culminating with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jake Johnson.
Hall’s conversion pass to Gregory trimmed the deficit to 22-20, giving PC some much-needed momentum going in at the halftime break.
“Riley Hall does a great job of running our offense — Jake Johnson made some big plays and George Gregory made a couple big plays as well,” pointed out the PC coach.
“This team doesn’t flinch, and that’s one thing I love about it,” continued coach Hines. “Regardless of the situation or the score, this team just doesn’t flinch. They’re going to keep playing to the final whistle. Jesse Whitaker made a huge play in a passing situation, our offensive line gave us great pass protection, and what can you say about Aaron Smith. It’s frustrating to me that people across this state that haven’t seen him play don’t realize just how dominating a player Aaron Smith is. He’s just an awesome football player. He’s just a tough, tough physical football player.”
Down to the Eagles by that 22-20 margin at the intermission, Pulaski came out in the second half and quickly regained the lead over Madison Southern.
Hall hooked up with Johnson again for another score — this time on an 8-yard pass play with 8:31 left in the frame, giving PC a 26-22 lead.
Late in the period with just :08 left, Smith scored his second TD of the night on a 1-yard run, and PC had a seemingly comfortable, 32-22 lead heading into the fourth quarter of play.
That comfortable lead certainly didn’t last long.
On the very first play from scrimmage in the fourth stanza, Harris broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced 76 yards for a touchdown, trimming the PC lead down to 32-28.
The score would stay that way until late, when Dionne gave his club a shot at the upset.
The speedster raced 61 yards on a fourth and one play from the Madison Southern 22, putting the ball deep inside PC territory.
At the end of the run, Dionne fumbled the ball, but Madison Southern recovered.
At that juncture however, Pulaski County came up with arguably, its biggest defensive stand of the season.
After holding the Eagles on that fourth and eight play from the PC 16-yard line, the Maroons couldn’t gain a first down.
That’s when Coots came up big for the Maroons.
The Pulaski punter certainly atoned for that shanked punt in the first half, as he drilled a towering, 51-yard punt, to swing field position back in favor of the Maroons with less than a minute left on the scoreboard.
From that point, the PC defense put the clamps down on Harris and the Eagles.
Harris gained 156 yards on 22 carries for the night, but the bottom line is the fact that his record fell to a winless 0-4 in his storied career against the Maroons.
“I’m so proud of our coaches — we had a great game plan tonight,” pointed out Hines. “We did some things a little bit differently than we did against them in the first game, and I think that played to our advantage.”
“We’ve got a great coaching staff and they do a great job of making adjustments during the game,” Hines added.
With the win, the 13-0 Maroons advanced to the Semi State round of the playoffs, where they will travel on the road next Friday night to face the Wildcats of Anderson County.
And, what’s maybe so special about what Pulaski has been able to accomplish this season is the fact the Maroons start five freshmen and five sophomores, so this is a program that is not only on the rise in Class 5 A, but a program that is going to be in the hunt for titles for the next few seasons.
“It’s a thrilling feeling to be in this spot, because we’ve only been here one time before and that was with the ‘09 team that won the region,” Hines stated.
“This is our second time getting this far, and as far as the regional title game goes, we had been here many times before, and this is where our season has ended, so it was great to get that second regional championship tonight,” added the PC coach.
Kickoff for next week’s Pulaski County—Anderson County game will get underway in Lawrenceburg beginning at 7:30 p.m.
MS — 8 14 0 6 — 28
PC — 12 8 12 0 — 32
PC — Gregory 19 pass from Hall (Kick failed)
MS — Harris 12 run (Dionne conv. run)
PC — Smith 11 run (Conv. run failed)
MS — Dionne 1 run (Coomer conv. run)
MS — Harris 3 run (Conv. run failed)
PC — Johnson 7 pass from Hall (Hall conv. pass to Gregory)
PC — Johnson 8 pass from Hall (Conv. run failed)
PC — Smith 1 run (Conv. pass failed)
MS — Harris 76 run (Conv. run failed)
RUSHING — (MS) Harris 22-156 3 TD, Dionne 15-90 TD. (PC) Smith 24-146 2 TD, Cox 14-86, Hall 10-27.
PASSING — (MS) Slone 3-9 38. (PC) Hall 13-19 109 3 TD.
RECEIVING — (MS) Dean 2-27. (PC) Johnson 7-42 2 TD, Gregory 2-21 TD.