The Madisonville North Hopkins High School football team rallied to win the 2019 state regional title for the first time since 1971 by dominating Franklin-Simpson, 45-31, at home Friday night.
North found themselves down four at halftime facing the same roadblock that had ended their past two seasons, but they stormed back in the second half to reach the Final Four of the 2019 Class 4A KHSAA Gridiron Bowl.
Jeriah Hightower led the way rushing for 312 yards and six touch-downs off 37 carries on a night the Maroon offense exploded for 478 total yards. The two teams were trading the lead for parts of the first half but the North defense held Franklin-Simpson to just seven points in the second half to go on a 25-7 spurt to take the championship.
Franklin-Simpson had ended the Maroons season in both in 2017 and 2018, but North was able to flip the script Friday night. In the first meeting the Wildcats dominated 62-6, then came last year when Franklin-Simpson just edged out the win 12-10, but North was the team who found a way to win this time.
Franklin Simpson was the two-time defending Class 4A state champions, which means Friday’s defeat guarantees a new name on the trophy. The Maroons are hoping it will be them; the win puts them in a matchup versus Johnson Central next Friday with a spot in the state final on the line.
North had lost the last time they were on their home field and Friday’s win avenges the last two season-ending defeats and closes out the year with a great home win for their fans.
North brought Maroon stadium to life right at the start. The defense forced a quick punt out of Franklin-Simpson to gain the early momentum at it carried over to the offense.
Led by the power rushing of Jeriah Hightower, North took five minutes of the clock crossing 82 yards on just nine plays to gain the early 7-0 lead. Hightower put an exclamation point on the drive by scoring off the two-yard line.
The Wildcats would quickly respond to calm the situation down. North received a penalty for sending the ensuing kickoff out of bounds and Franklin-Simpson capitalized on the field position. They took just five plays to tie the game up with their quarterback finishing the drive on a seven-yard scramble up the sideline.
North didn’t panic and continued playing at their own pace. They took their time crossing the field on seven plays, using Hightower on six of them to take the lead once again. The drive extended into the beginning of the second quarter and Hightower made it 14-7 getting his second touchdown of the game from two yards out.
Franklin-Simpson wasn’t finding success stopping North but they were able to keep up with the pace. While North was taking their time moving the ball, the Wildcats were scoring with speed. In just two and a half minutes, Franklin -Simpson crossed the field to tie the game at 14-14 midway through the second quarter ending on a 15-yard end-around run.
After the quick drive, the momentum was fully on the traveling side, who forced a quick three and got the ball right back in less than a minute. Then the "doing things quickly" trend continued for F-S. They took the ball and pulled off their third scoring drive in a row, this time in just a minute and 45 seconds.
Down now 21-14, North continued doing what they knew best, feeding Hight-ower. Finding themselves down the first time all night, North used the senior running back seven times to get right down to the goal line. He then cliched the drive finding his third touchdown of the night, carrying the ball over from one-yard line.The Maroons still found themselves trailing despite the touchdown as Simen Lind slipped in the extra point attempt to keep the score at 21-20.
North was struggling to keep up with the Franklin-Simpson response, but the state rushing leader didn’t let them fall behind the pace. Hightower had 20 carries for 166 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Maroons within striking distance.
With 1:20 left in the half, the Wildcats were able to still gain more cushion on their lead. They lead a drive all the way to the Madisonville side of the field and finished up the half with a 35-yard field goal to make it a 24-20 game at the break.
North started the second half with the ball and they started out on fire. Hightower opened the half the same way he did the first, pounding the ball up the middle. He picked up his fourth on the night with a 24-yard scamper.
The Maroons found the lead again and the home crowd got to its loudest point all night. North continued its momentum forcing a three and out and scoring two plays in after receiving the ball. Marquise Parker received a simple screen pass and he exploded up the right sideline for 70 yards. Lind would miss his second extra point of the game to keep it at 33-24, but the Maroon faithful were still singing strong.
They would get even louder three plays later when North intercepted a Franklin -Simpson pass to put them in control the rest of the way. North took their time with their possession taking seven minutes off the clock before Hightower punched it home for his fifth TD of the night.
North failed to convert the two point try, but they were in prime position sitting up top 39-24 with 11 minutes left of the match-up.
In the span of 13 minutes, the Maroons went from being four points down to having a commanding 15 point lead and they didn’t stop there. Hightower put the last nail in the coffin finding his sixth touchdown of the night to make it 45-24 with six minutes remaining.
Franklin-Simpson added a late touchdown with 90 seconds left in the game to make the scoreline more respectful, but it was too little too late. North finally got over the hump.