Friday night, the Cougars got a chance to return the favor. They did so in style.
It took a 45 yard punt return from Jacob Smerage to get the Cougars going, but once they did, there was little the Bulldogs could do to stop the hosts in a 37-0 rout of the state runners-up from last year.
It was a night of upheaval all around the state and early on it looked as though the Cougars were going to have to fight for every single inch of grass on the field.
The defense was as stout as they had been all season, not even allowing so much as a first down in the entire first half. Outside of an early field goal by Cougar senior Cody Summerlot, Monrovia was just as unrelenting, turning the first half into a field position contest.
Smerage's return finally snapped the Cougars into action, but it nearly never came about. The junior didn't get a handle on a punt late in the second quarter on the first try. Running to his left, he evaded two tacklers and finally found the wall built by the rest of the North Putnam punt team.
The touchdown return was offset slightly by a missed extra point, but the wake-up call had been sounded. Before the half finished, the Cougars got possession inside Monrovia territory following a catch interference call on a Bulldog punt.
Motoring down the field, the Cougars ate up 40 yards in seven plays, culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass. Kolten Everts threw a dangerous ball that a Monrovia defender somehow missed for what could have been a touchdown going the other way, but in the hands of Jordan Murphy gave North Putnam a 16-0 lead going into halftime.
The Cougars needed little time in putting the game out of reach. Murphy opened the half with a 56-yard run to put the hosts at the Monrovia five yard line. From there, Hank Spencer ran off tackle and beat everyone to the corner of the end zone to increase the North Putnam lead to 23-0.
Monrovia was able to gather their first 1st down of the contest with just under a minute to play in the third quarter, but would do nothing on the possession. The ensuing punt barely crossed midfield and the Cougars would not waste the short field, hammering the ball into the end zone six plays later on another Murphy run.
The Bulldogs soon grew desperate and tried to open up the playbook, but found the Cougars seemingly on to their every move. As the Cougars tried to run the clock out, Smerage ran for 49 yards on a fourth and 7 play to put the Cougars on the Monrovia one- yard line.
Smerage was given the chance to finish the job on the next play and did so from the fullback position, capping the scoring at 37-0. The Bulldogs tried to extend the contest but finally ran out of time and became one of four state finalists from last year to be knocked out of the state tournament in the sectional rounds.
While the offense was stagnant coming out of the gates, the defense held firm and was deserving of Cougar head coach Greg Barrett's praise.
"It's a huge win for us. We have talked about what happened last year, but that was two different teams.. It feels good to beat them here twice. It's a good ball club. They do a nice job with their offense. I though our defense played great tonight. They've played great all year for us and they've been the staple of our team," Barrett said.
"I think we were a little too excited coming out here tonight. We'd get excited and lose a snap or have a high snap. Those are things that are correctable and we're going to have to work on them this week."
The punt return that finally got the Cougars going was part of a solid special teams day, considering that North Putnam forced Monrovia to punt ten times.
"I tell you what, Jake Smerage did a great job on the return. We did a nice job blocking. Travis Franklin had some nice returns," Barrett said.
"We had some adversity tonight and I thought we handled it well. It was nice to see other athletes that we have on this team step up and make big plays for us. We had several guys step at different times and that's what I think makes us successful," Barrett added.
With the win, North Putnam will host the sectional final against
county foe Greencastle. With a 49-14 win already in the bag against the Tiger Cubs, one of the biggest challenges the squad must face is not overlooking their in-county rival, knowing that former WCC member Speedway or a marauding Shenandoah squad lie ahead in a potential regional match-up.
"That's something as a staff that we talked about all year is keeping these guys focused. These guys are 14, 15, 16, 17 year olds. It's been really good for us, the way we've responded at times this year. It's crazy to see how these kids respond at certain times," Barrett said.
"We talk about handling adversity and that's what it's going to take. They need to come out focused and play their game and let things take care of themselves."
At North Putnam
Monrovia 0 0 0 0 -- 0
North Putnam 3 13 7 14 -- 37
NP -- Summerlot 27 yard field goal 3-0 5:15
NP -- Smerage 45 yard punt return (XP no good) 9-0 3:15
NP -- Everts 5 yard pass to Murphy (Summerlot kick) 16-0 0:26
NP -- Spencer 5 yard run (Summerlot kick) 23-0 11:35
NP -- Murphy 5 yard run (Summerlot kick) 30-0 9:20
NP -- Smerage 1 yard run (Summerlot kick) 37-0 0:38
Next game -- North Putnam hosts Greencastle for the IHSAA 2A Sectional 30 Championship next Friday.