North Hardin hitched its offensive success to Lavell Wright.
And the junior running back was just fine with it.
“He’s special,” Trojans coach Brent Thompson said. “He’s a quality young man off the field, which is probably the best part about him. He’s a very giving kid.
“We went to him this week and told him that we were gonna give him the football and he said, ‘Coach, give it to me all night.’”
Wright ran the ball 30 times for 202 yards — both season highs — and three touchdowns to lead North Hardin to a 31-7 victory over Central Hardin for the Class 6-A, District 2 championship.
“It’s exciting,” Trojans wide receiver Camron Smith said of watching Wright, who has 1,589 yards and 22 touchdowns on 233 carries on the season. “He’s one of my best friends and I enjoy watching him play. Him doing his thing makes the game really exciting. It gets my blood pumping.”
The Trojans ran the ball 37 times, three of which went for minus-35 yards after bad snaps.
“He just gets stronger,” Central Hardin coach Tim Mattingly said of Wright. “He wore us down and they wore us down.”
North Hardin owned the second half.
It outscored the Bruins, 24-0 and the defense held them to nine yards on 21 plays.
“They made more plays in the second half,” Mattingly said. “We made some mistakes. Good teams capitalize on mistakes and that’s what they did. My hats off to them. Congratulations on being district champs.”
Cayden Logsdon booted a 20-yard field goal to give the Trojans a 10-7 lead at 6:12 of the third period.
The teams exchanged turnovers and after the Bruins were held on fourth-and-4 from the 32, North Hardin went 68 yards on five plays. Wright scored from the 1 with 1:52 left in the quarter. The big play was a 54-yard pass from Manie Wimberly to Smith.
Trojans junior Devonte Lemafa picked off a Chase Elmore pass on second down and Wright scored from the 9 four plays later for a 24-7 lead 34 seconds into the final period. Wimberly found Smith for a 26-yard gain on third-and-6.
“I went to the flats and saw the ball coming so I just had to go get it,” said Lemafa, who caused a fumble midway through the third period that was recovered by Micah Parmes. “We made some adjustments (in the second half) to stay in the slant zone instead of going to the flats. It helped us. We just came out and did what we had to do. We weren’t worried about the score.”
North Hardin junior safety Jordan Lovett gathered his state-leading 14th interception of the season on the Bruins’ next possession and Wimberly connected with Smith again, this time on a 33-yard scoring strike six plays later with 4:35 left in the contest.
“We just had to keep doing our thing,” Smith said of the second half. “Coach was telling us that we were doing our jobs correctly and just keep pushing forward. It was a very exciting second half. Coach said that we had to wait for the right opportunity and we did that tonight.”
Logsdon’s fourth PAT closed the scoring.
“Two big turnovers and every time we had a positive play, there was a penalty,” Mattingly said of the second half. “It just wasn’t our night. A lot of that is caused by them having a great defense. I’m not gonna make any excuses. They are really good on defense. They have a lot of playmakers on offense. We took chances on defense because we had to. They finally made us pay for it.”
Central Hardin finished with 154 yards of offense, two less than in the first meeting, a 7-0 Trojans win Oct. 25.
“We just had to continue to do our jobs,” North Hardin senior defensive end Isaiah Beasley said. “I felt that at times we were worried about doing everything else but our job. When we came back out (for the second half) we knew we had to continue to play hard and finish the game. We had to contain the quarterback rolling out and stuff their running game.
“It worked out.”
Central Hardin’s first 10 plays of the second half resulted in four for negative yardage, two for zero yards, lost a fumble, had an interception, a nine-yard run by Elmore and a seven-yard reception by George.
“We made a minor adjustment,” Thompson said. “They were getting the ball to Gavin in the slant zone. They had added a little space there that we weren’t used to. We adjusted after the first drive and it made a big difference.
“We always talk about Gavin. He’s their playmaker. He’s the one they try to get the ball to. You could tell that (Deonco) Wilkerson was a little hobbled. We wanted to make sure he didn’t get loose, either.”
The Bruins ran the ball 11 times for negative-6 yards in the second half and 22 times for 14 yards in the game. Elmore was 14-for-27 for 140 yards, 125 of which came in the first half.
“Not being able to run the ball ... when you can’t do that, you become one dimensional and against good teams, one dimensional is not gonna work,” Mattingly said.
“We felt like our front four was gonna go do the work, so we just let them work,” Thompson said. “Our defensive line and our defensive line coach, they take it personal when people try to run the football on them and they did a great job of shutting it down.”
The Trojans allow 44.7 yards per game on the ground.
Central Hardin’s Trent Ferguson recovered a fumble less than two minutes into the game.
The Bruins capitalized on the turnover, going 55 yards in eight plays, the final 15 on a pass from Elmore to George. Evan Jones’ PAT made it 7-0 at 6:25 of the first.
Elmore found George three times on the drive for 41 yards. George finished the game with 12 receptions for 133 yards.
“They started trying to stop him and they slowed that down,” Mattingly said. “Good teams adjust and they adjusted.
“We had a good year. To go from where we were last year, to put it all behind us and end up with nine wins, I didn’t think it would happen. I’m proud of this group of seniors for leading us and hanging in there and showing everyone what hard work can do. We had good leadership with these guys and I’m proud of that.”
The Trojans tied it at 7 at 8:26 of the second period when Wright scored from the 9 to finish a six-play, 43-yard drive.
“Our kids continue to play with a chip on their shoulder,” Thompson said. “They want to win each week and they continue to perform when the bullseye is on their back. They never once complained or got mad at each other. Our defense wanted to show that we can get better each week.
“Central came out with a nice game plan. But once we adjusted, we were able to limit them.”
The Bruins finish 9-3 and lose 22 seniors to graduation.
“Hard work puts you in position to play in these types of games,” Mattingly said. “We’ve got some kids who are gonna play at the next level and it shows the (other) kids that if that’s what you truly want, then you’ve gotta get in there and do the work. It’s not just gonna happen. College offers and playing college football is not there for everybody. It’s a tough road, but I think we have three or four kids who are capable of doing that.”
North Hardin welcomes McCracken County, a 17-6 winner over Henderson County, at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the region championship.
“We were out both defensive ends going into the game. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle,” Mattingly said. “I was proud of our kids. They really battled.
“North is a really good football team and I would not be surprised to see them in the state championship. I think they have a shot. I really do.”
Wimberly was 4-for-4 for 136 yards in the second half and 8-for-10 for 161 yards total. Smith caught five passes for 133 yards.