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Another week, another key player gone for the winless LaRue County Hawks.
This time it’s senior end/linebacker Michael Neal, who suffered a leg injury Tuesday in an auto accident. Neal was one of the few Hawks to have started every game, carrying the ball 26 times for 64 yards and a touchdown, leading the team in receptions (four) and receiving yards (115), recovering a fumble and leading the team in total tackles (27) and solo stops (20).
Without Neal, the number of Hawks who have been available to play in every game drops to 16. Out of those, Conor Creekmore, Forrest Durham, Justice Harrison, Zac Hornung, Kody Key-Close, Dalton Lawson, Koy Lindsey, Damarcus McCray, Dalton Metcalf, Colby Skaggs and Matt Stiles have the ability to make it 7-for-7 at 7:30 tonight as the Hawks host Class 3-A, District 3 foe Henry County.
“They still come to work and we’ve had a good week of practice,” second-year LaRue County coach Josh Jaggers said about his dwindling roster. “They’re resilient, which is what makes things easier even though most people just see the scoreboard. They’re a resilient bunch of kids and they’ve got a short memory. And in a season like this, you’ve got to have a short memory and always look forward to the next positive and the next positive for us is our next district game.”
Another positive is Neal hasn’t been ruled out for the season – at least not yet.
“He’s for sure out this week and everything else is to be determined. I just hope it’s not for the season because he – and the few seniors we have left – have been our heart and soul,” Jaggers said. “He’s kind of played a little bit of everywhere for us. He’s kind of had to. We played him where needed him because he’s been a total team player. So I hate it for him and I hate it for the kids. I just hope he’ll be OK.”
Neal carried the ball a team-high 12 times for 10 yards in last week’s 55-6 loss to Russell County. Players such as McCray (28 carries for 137 yards on the season), Lawson (53, 203) and Harrison (three, 24) figure to receive more carries with Neal out.
Senior Keegan Kirkpatrick made his first start at quarterback last week as the Hawks shifted to a wishbone offense from their shotgun Wing-T. Lindsey, the former starting quarterback, moved to defense, although he saw time at fullback this week in practice.
LaRue County was held to 167 yards on 39 plays last week, but the Hawks were undone by turnovers on five consecutive possessions. At the same time, they were also playing against a deeper, bigger, more veteran team.
“They were a tough team and I don’t know what would have worked against them,” Jaggers said of Russell County. “They’re as good of a team that I’ve coached against since I’ve been here outside of Louisville Central. They’re the complete package.”
Henry County (4-2) was riding a four-game win streak before falling at North Bullitt last week, 22-17. The Wildcats, who average 24.7 points and 224 yards per game out of the split-back veer and I formations, are led by their duo of junior running back Mason Fish (86 carries, 797 yards, eight touchdowns) and junior quarterback Austin Hartsell (65, 242 seven).
“It’s old-school football and they’ve done a good job with it,” Jaggers said.
The Wildcats are allowing 12.7 points per game. Henry County started the season out of a 50 front, but Jaggers said the Wildcats have shown an even front in recent games with 4-3 and 4-4 looks.
“We’ve prepared for both, but I think it will be pretty standard what we’ll see,” Jaggers said. “Since we’re based out of the 3-4 50, we’re used to practicing against that. And a 4-3 or 4-4 is what we’ll see most weeks.”
LaRue County (0-6) has won the teams’ previous two meetings, 42-15 last year in New Castle and 40-21 in 2011 in Hodgenville.
“I think we’re prepared,” Jaggers said. “We’re going to see what can happen.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at 270-505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.