STANFORD — North Laurel quarterback Michael Nelson bolstered his game stats Friday night, finishing with over 300 total yards and four touchdowns as the Jaguars beat host Lincoln County 35-14.
It wasn’t just that Nelson had 306 yards, but it was the fact that they came in large chunks, including runs of 37, 58 and 83 yards and a pass for 95 yards, all of which resulted in touchdowns that put the Jaguars up 35-0. The junior quarterback had 211 yards on the ground on 13 carries as the Jaguars clinched third place in District AAAAA-7 and relegated Lincoln to fourth place.
North Laurel amassed 509 yards on offense, with running back Gabe Blair pushing up the numbers with 168 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
“They did what they wanted to do tonight, and we struggled stopping them,” Lincoln coach Mike Settles said. “Any time you’ve got a player like Michael Nelson, he’s going to make big, big plays. That’s why I lost a lot of sleep this week. I knew that was going to be a challenge. Our kids saw it, too, on film. I mean, he’d scored 18 touchdowns coming into this game.”
Nelson scored touchdown No. 19 on North Laurel’s second possession of the game. The Jaguars (6-4, 3-2 district) took over at their own 21-yard line, however, negative rushing yards and penalties pushed them back to the 5. Despite poor field position, North Laurel needed just four plays to convert. Nelson passed the ball only once the entire game and that lone pass, on third-and-26, resulted in a 95-yard touchdown reception by Cole Lewis late in the first quarter.
The Jaguars tacked on two more scores in the second quarter to cushion their lead to 21-0.
Midway through the second quarter on fourth-and-6, Nelson kept the ball on a faked reverse and scooted 37 yards down the Jaguars’ sideline for a touchdown. He struck again with just over a minute left in the first half, capping off an 89-yard drive with a 58-yard touchdown run.
“I knew it was going to be tough to stop him. He’s just a great player. He’s explosive. Plus, up front they were real physical, and unfortunately we didn’t respond real well,” Settles said. “Defensively, we just didn’t tackle well and gave up big plays and key downs. That kind of set the tone for the rest of the game.”
While North Laurel’s offense was racking up the points, Lincoln’s was sputtering along. The Patriots (5-5, 2-3) got inside the Jaguars’ 35 on each of their four first-half possessions, but none produced points. Boone Baird missed on field-goal attempts of 48 and 35 yards after drives stalled, the Patriots lost the ball on downs once, and then fumbled the ball while driving inside the North Laurel 15.
Lincoln did get in the end zone in the second quarter when Trevor Gaines ran the ball in from the Jaguars’ 29, but the touchdown was nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty on the Patriots.
“I felt like we expected to play better. We just made a lot of mistakes offensively,” Settles said. “It’s unfortunate because our kids, they’ve really worked hard, They’ve trained hard. To come out like this on senior night was disappointing.”
Settles was hoping for an offensive turnaround for Lincoln in the second half, and the Patriots appeared ready to deliver on the opening series.
Quarterback Justin Hubble hit Gaines for a 21-yard pass and Logan Martin went 16 yards for a first down on the drive. Face mask and personal foul penalties against North Laurel helped move the ball to the Jaguars’ 14, but that was as close as the Patriots would get, with Blair intercepting Hubble to end the drive.
Lincoln’s next two drives also stalled, ending with a punt and on downs.
“Our goal was just to come out and win the second half. We had to have something successful happen early in the second half, and it didn’t really happen for us,” Settles said. “We had to take chances of going for it in our territory. We got lucky a few times, but we just weren’t consistently playing well on offense or defense.”
North Laurel was scoreless in the third quarter as well, but the Jaguars were back on the scoreboard early in the fourth to extend their lead. Nelson broke out of a crowd of Patriot defenders and romped 83 yards to the end zone just over a minute into the period. Then, after North Laurel took over on downs at the Lincoln 39, Blair capped off the short drive with a 5-yard touchdown run that gave the Jaguars a 35-0 lead.
The Patriots finally broke onto the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
Hubble, who went 12 for 24 for 115 yards, connected for two first-down passes to Gaines for 11 and 6 yards, then ran for two first downs of 14 and 26 yards before taking the ball in from the 7-yard line for Lincoln’s first score. The drive covered 79 yards in eight plays.
“Justin played a good game, and I’m proud of him,” Settles said. “There’s no doubt that he plays hard, and he came through with some big plays there.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Lincoln recovered the ball at the North Laurel 29. Martin carried the ball three times to the 5 then Hubble connected with Connor Patterson for a touchdown pass and the 35-14 final.
Lincoln’s regular season ended with Friday’s loss, but the Patriots will play on, making the Class AAAAA playoffs as the fourth-place team in District 7.
“I know our kids are disappointed, but I’m proud of our kids and that we’ve made the playoffs for three consecutive years,” Settles said. “Of course, we’d liked to have had a winning season, but our kids have a lot to be proud of this year.”
The Patriots have an open date next week, then travel to Harlan County, the No. 1 team in District 8, to open the playoffs Nov. 2.
“Regardless of who we play, we’ve got to get ready in two weeks to play in the playoffs,” Settles said. “When you look at our games, you see how the outcomes are inconsistent. That’s kind of a reflection of how we play, so hopefully we can put it together for the playoffs. I’m kind of curious to see how our team responds.”
North Laurel 7 14 0 14 — 35
Lincoln County 0 0 0 14 — 14
North Laurel — Cole Lewis 95 pass from Michael Nelson (Keaton Kennedy kick), 1:49.
North Laurel — Nelson 37 run (Kennedy kick), 5:47.
North Laurel — Nelson 58 run (Kennedy kick), 1:01.
North Laurel — Nelson 83 run (Kennedy kick), 10:47.
North Laurel — Gabe Blair 5 run (Kennedy kick), 8:04.
Lincoln — Justin Hubble 7 run (Boone Baird kick), 4:17.
Lincoln — Connor Patterson 5 pass from Hubble (Baird kick), 2:27.
First downs 11 20
Rushes-yards 45-414 40-215
Passing 95 115
Total Net Yards 509 330
Comp-Att-Int 1-1-0 12-24-1
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-1
Penalties-Yards 9-90 3-20
RUSHING—North Laurel, Michael Nelson 13-211, Gabe Blair 28-168, Jake McFadden 2-35, Jake McWhorter 2-0. Lincoln, Justin Hubble 10-79, Logan Martin 11-58, Connor Patterson 8-39, Marvin Robinson 10-22, Trevor Gaines 1-17.
PASSING—North Laurel, Nelson 1-1-0-95. Lincoln, Hubble 12-24-1-115.
RECEIVING—North Laurel, Cole Lewis 1-95. Lincoln, Gaines 8-84, Patterson 2-14, Gerald Miller 1-9, Austin Cress 1-8.