ROACHDALE -- North Putnam welcomed a new challenger to Cougar Stadium Friday night, as the Indianapolis Howe Hornets arrived in Putnam County for the first time in the program's history.
The Cougars proved to be unkind hosts as they knocked off the visitors 34-0 on Senior Night.
The hosts needed a possession to get settled into the game but needed only two plays before they opened the scoring as Jake Smearge took a quick screen from Kolten Everts and dashed off for a 66 yard score for a 7-0 lead.
A blocked punt deep in Howe territory set up the next score, with Tyler Shorter nearly scoring on another screen. Everts snuck in from a yard out for the score, while Trevor Smith hit Jameson Brewer for the two point conversion.
North finished the quarter strong with another score as Smearge and Everts hooked up again, this time for 51 yards and six points, stretching the Cougar lead to 22-0.
The North Putnam attack slowed in the second quarter, but the Cougars did add-on to their lead after another punting mishap by the Hornets. With a short field, the hosts six plays to cover 34 yards.
Hank Spencer capped off the dove with a one-yard touchdown run off the left side of the offensive line. The extra point was blocked, but the Cougars still held a 28-0 lead.
The lead would stay there for much of the second and third quarters as both offenses became bogged down by penalties and mishaps.
North Putnam would extend the lead in the third quarter, but needed a special teams play to do so. Another punt was blocked by the Cougars, this time in the end zone, and was recovered by Logan Hunter for the score.
An offside on the extra point attempt tempted the Cougars to go for two, which was stuffed by the Hornets to keep the lead at 34-0.
The offense was then given a chance to add some more points when Smearge intercepted Timothy Johnson. Smearge, however, would be stopped inches short of crossing the goal line three plays later and while reaching the ball out, lost it. Howe recovered the fumble on the one yard line.
The Cougar defense was forced to dig in deep at times during the second half as Howe began to find a rhythm offensively.
The Hornets' best opportunity to score came late in the fourth quarter. Johnson completed three passes that allowed the visitors to reach the North Putnam six yard line.
A sack by Hunter was followed by two incompletions and then what looked to be a touchdown pass from Johnson to Raymond Epps.
The officials, who originally signaled for the score, discussed the play and ruled that Johnson was over the line of scrimmage on the pass. The penalty resulted in a turnover on downs and preservation of the shutout to the end of the game.
It wasn't always a pretty game on Senior Night, but it was a win for head coach Brian Crabtree and the Cougars, who hit the Hornets early in the contest.
"We were able to take advantage of their aggressiveness and hit them on some screen passes early. You're going to be able to get that when you have a defense that flies around as much as they do," Crabtree said.
"They settled down a little bit and the screen wasn't quite as good later in the game. Give them a lot of credit. That is the best team of athletes we've played and their coaches are getting that program on track.
"We turned the ball over and we had some penalties. Once they settled down, they quit giving up the easy stuff to us. It's the first time we've had to play that hard maybe since Southmont because they are talented and well coached," Crabtree added.
It was a mixture of good play and frustrating play for the Cougars, with Crabtree noting that mistakes can't be made in the tournament like they were Friday night.
"We made mistakes again tonight and we've got one week to get them fixed. If we do those in the tournament, we're putting ourselves in danger. We can't keep putting the ball on the ground and we have to cut down on penalties," Crabtree said.
"Our defense played great tonight. Everyone knows we are a program built on our defense. That's our foundation. The kids will tell you we are a defensive football program.
"I thought we did some good things on special teams, but nowhere near perfect. Punt block did a good job with the exception of one penalty. That was a momentum thing for us," Crabtree added.
The final game of the regular season next Friday will be at Cloverdale for the Cougars. Crabtree said distractions with the tournament draw will have to be put aside for a week.
"I expect Cloverdale to come out swinging and give us their best effort. We'll know who we play in the tournament by that time but our focus will be on winning that week and getting better that week," Crabtree said.
"I don't believe in taking a week off. Cloverdale's an up and coming program. Coach Butler is doing a fantastic job over there and they'll be ready to go. We've got to have a great week of preparation."
At North Putnam
Indianapolis Howe 0 0 0 0 -- 0
North Putnam 22 6 6 0 -- 34
NP -- 7:22 Smearge 66-yard pass from Everts (Freund kick) 7-0
NP -- 5:22 Everts 1-yard run (Flynn pass to Brewer) 15-0
NP -- 1:30 Smearge 51-yard pass from Everts (Freund kick) 22-0
NP -- 6:40 Spencer 1-yard run (XP blocked)28-0
NP -- 2:05 Logan fumble recovery (Two-point conversion failed) 34-0