By Bob Flynn
Special to the Register
Three fumbles proved too much to overcome for Madison Southern in a heartbreaking 37-36 loss to visiting Pulaski County Friday.
The fumbles, one on a kickoff, one on a punt and the last with just more than three minutes left in the game with the Eagles clinging to a 36-31 lead, and several untimely penalties, spoiled another spectacular performance by sophomore running back Damien Harris.
For the second week in a row, Harris rushed for five touchdowns, giving him 30 TDs on the year. He finished the night with 260 yards on 24 carries.
Southern (4-3) came into the matchup with the Maroons on a three-game winning streak, tied with Pulaski atop the Class 5A, District 7 standings.
The Eagles defense had given
up only 74 points over the past five games coming into the game, but had trouble all night containing the big-play Maroon offense, led by freshman quarterback Riley Hall and senior running back Tyler Goins.
Every time Pulaski needed a big play, Goins and Hall rose to the occasion. Goins finished the night with 163 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and another touchdown through the air on an 80-yard screen pass from Hall in the fourth quarter. Hall went 15-of-21 through the air with one touchdown.
A disappointed Eagles coach Jon Clark knows his young team let a big opportunity slip away.
“This one is tough to swallow. We had some periods where we executed as well as we can and we had some periods where we put the ball on the ground,” Clark said. “We’ve told them from day one that when we protect the football, we do some good things and when we don’t, we don’t. You’ve got to protect the football.”
Pulaski scored first in the seesaw battle that saw four ties and three lead changes, when Goins broke loose up the middle for a 47-yard touchdown with just less than five minutes to go in the first quarter. Derrick Burchett’s point after made it 7-0 Maroons.
Southern got on the board on its third possession. After being held in check by the Maroon defense for most of the quarter, Harris took a pitchout from quarterback Adam Simpson and swept down the left sideline, leaping over a Pulaski defender at midfield, then outrunning the Maroon secondary for a 65-yard touchdown. The Garrison Watts’ PAT tied the score at seven with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
Southern took its first lead of the game with 4:14 to go before the half after recovering a Pulaski fumble on the Maroon 12-yard line. Following a five-yard run by Simpson and a facemask penalty on Pulaski, Harris bulled his way into the end zone for his second touchdown of the night to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead.
Pulaski came right back after recovering a John Williams fumble on a punt. Goins scored his second touchdown of the night on a two-yard run to tie the score at 14-14 at the half.
Neither team’s defense could slow down the other’s offense in the third quarter as the two teams traded scores.
Pulaski took the opening kickoff to start the half and drove 66 yards on nine plays, going up 21-14 on a 1-yard plunge by Aaron Smith with 8:26 left on the clock.
Southern came right back with a six-play 23-yard drive of its own, capped off by a 26-yard touchdown on a sweep around right end by Harris to tie the game at 21.
Pulaski once again took the ball and methodically marched downfield, but this time the Eagle defense stiffened and the Maroons were forced to settle for a Burchett 23-yard field goal for a 24-21 lead at the end of the third quarter.
It looked like Southern was beginning to take control of the game in the fourth quarter. The Eagles recaptured the lead three minutes into the quarter on Harris’ fourth TD of the game, this one an 8-yard dash up the middle. Simpson’s two-point conversion run after a bad snap on the PAT gave the Eagles the lead 29-24 with just over 11 minutes left.
After the Eagle defense held the Maroons on downs and gave the offense the ball on its own 34-yard line, it only took the Eagles six plays to get into the end zone. On the drive, Harris had runs of 9, 57 and two yards and scored his fifth touchdown of the game to extend the Eagles lead to 36-24 with seven minutes left in the game.
But as they did last week when they came from 21 points down in the fourth quarter against North Laurel, the Maroons didn’t quit, scoring on one play, an 80-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Goins that cut the lead to 36-31 after Burchett’s PAT.
Southern was once again marching downfield when the third fumble of the game, this one by Coty Russell at the 40-yard line with less than four minutes to go in the game, gave Pulaski one more chance.
This time Goins gashed the Southern defense for a 57-yard TD on the Maroon’s third play to give the Maroon’s their final lead of the game.
Southern had one more chance, but a holding penalty negated a nine-yard run by Harris that would have given the Eagles a first down at the Maroon 27-yard line with 20 seconds left on the clock. After the 15-yard penalty, a Simpson pass to Caleb Goss fell incomplete putting an end to the comeback attempt.
Afterwards, Clark said the game could be a painful lesson for his team.
“We’ve had some success, but you’ve got to learn how to handle it. I don’t think we prepared well this week. We had some good days, but we had some of the worst days we’ve ever had,” Clark said. “So, we’ve got to learn to prepare better regardless of the opponent. But, we’ll go back to work tomorrow morning and we’ll learn from this.”
Southern is set to take on North Laurel Friday at home in another district showdown.