Clinging to a narrow lead and time running out was an ideal position for the North Hardin defense to be in Friday night as senior linebacker Darren Green saw it.
For all the work that goes into playing one game a week, being challenged to make plays with the outcome of the game on the line was what Green and the Trojans relentlessly had worked toward.
“This is why we put in the work that we do and why we listen to our coaches the way that we do,’’ Green said after fourth-ranked North Hardin in the Associated Press poll held off No. 7 Louisville Ballard, 10-6, in the Trojans’ home opener. “It’s when we are expected to come up and stop them and make plays.’’
The Trojans made play after play in a tenuous fourth quarter that saw the Bruins have four possessions, including two inside the final five minutes of the game. Each time, the Trojans turned Ballard back — twice on interceptions by junior safety Jordan Lovett.
“It’s satisfying to see your kids make stops like they did,’’ North Hardin head coach Brent Thompson said. “They came up big.’’
North is 3-0 to start the season for the third time in four seasons.
North Hardin led 10-0 at halftime and opened the second half with a 65-yard drive that stalled at the Ballard 5. A 22-yard field-goal attempt by sophomore kicker Cayden Logsdon was blocked and returned to the Trojans’ 28. Seven plays later, the Bruins scored on a 3-yard keeper by junior quarterback Larry Cummings.
That set the stage for a back-and-forth final 18 minutes of the game.
“You just have to keep making plays and making stops,’’ Lovett said. “They’re a good team so we had to stay strong until the end.’’
North Hardin had a chance to put the game away with about five minutes left when junior quarterback Logan Coleman hooked up with senior receiver Josh Moore on a 25-yard scoring pass on fourth down. That score was called back for holding in the Trojan backfield and the possession ended when Coleman was sacked on fourth-and-32 from the Ballard 40.
Thompson said he decided to go for first down near midfield instead of a short punt, in part, due to his belief his defense and how they had played up until that point.
“If we had no confidence or little confidence, I would have made a different decision,’’ he said. “If we don’t get the score called back it’s a great call. It just didn’t work out.’’
The Bruins (1-2) took over and drove into North Hardin’s territory when Cummings zipped a pass for senior receiver Telly Byrd near the left sideline. Lovett, who played receiver last year, darted to his right, cut in front of Byrd to make a diving interception of the pass at the Trojan 10.
“He’s a freak athlete,’’ Thompson said of Lovett. “He’s probably the best athlete on the team.’’
Lovett said he “baited’’ Cummings into thinking he wasn’t going to be near the play and then when the quarterback turned to his left and dropped his arm back, he made his move.
“I wanted to make him think I wasn’t going that way,’’ Lovett said. “I stayed near the middle and then when I baited him into going that way, I made my move and went for it.’’
After the interception, North’s defense would be asked again to make a final stand.
The Trojans, who finished with a season-low 208 yards of offense, went three-and-out on their possession after the turnover with Ballard wisely using their timeouts to minimize how much time went off the clock as North’s attack stalled.
Ballard got the ball back at its 43-yard-line and drove to the North Hardin 40. On fourth down and needing 13 yards to keep the ball, the Trojans’ coverage stopped Ballard on a pass play eight yards shy of converting a first down with just over one minute left.
“They play a lot like us,’’ Green said of Ballard. “They have size and speed. It was like playing ourselves.’’
North Hardin built its halftime lead on a 33-yard field goal by Logsdon and a 2-yard run by junior running back Lavell Wright, who was limited to 77 yards on 20 carries. Wright set up the score with 4:54 left in the first half on a 33-yard run. He also had two catches for 45 yards.
The Trojans travel to Lexington Tates Creek (1-2) for a 7:30 p.m. contest on Friday.