BEREA — Guts and composure are a tough combination to beat on a football field.
Pulaski County showed both Friday night, edging Madison Southern 21-18 in a matchup of unbeaten 5A district rivals.
The result, played before a standing-room crowd, left Pulaski with an 8-0 record for the first time ever.
"That's two really good football teams," Maroons Coach John Hines said. "You've got to give a lot of credit to Madison Southern — very well-fought game; (Damien) Harris was as spectacular as his buildup is, and they've got a good team to go with him.
"Very tough win for our guys. I'm proud of our team. We didn't play particularly well, especially in the second half, but we gutted it out."
Pulaski came in averaging 48.9 points a game, while Southern was at 40.7.
The teams gave the scoreboard a first-quarter workout as Pulaski bolted to a 21-10 lead. Then, defense took over.
Southern (6-1) got a huge effort out of Harris.
The Michigan recruit scored both Eagles touchdowns and, unofficially, finished with 257 yards on 35 carries.
"Oh, man, I haven't seen anything like it," Pulaski quarterback Riley Hall said of Harris. "He's a truck, and he'll do big things at Michigan."
Harris just needed some more help.
"I know with everybody it's 'the Madison Southern of Damien Harris,'" Coach Jon Clark said. "But here's the deal: we've got 11 guys on the field. Up until tonight, 11 guys were doing their job. Tonight we didn't have 11 guys doing their job on offense."
Pulaski scored on its first three possessions.
"We knew it was going to be the biggest game of the year, for the district championship," said Hall, a sophomore. "We came out on fire. Then they stopped us and we kept our composure. We found a way to stop them ... and just gave it all we had."
Hall passed for touchdowns of 22 yards to George Gregory and 5 yards to Jake Johnson. The Maroons' other TD came on Aaron Smith's 81-yard kickoff return.
Pulaski nearly made it 4-for-4 on scores, driving to the Eagles' 1 before fumbling.
Southern got a 25-yard field goal by Garrison Watts and a 57-yard touchdown run by Harris.
Things got interesting in the closing minutes as Pulaski drove from its 27 to the Southern 16, looking to put a final nail in the coffin.
Instead, homecoming king Devante Linville intercepted a pass and returned it to his 33. A personal foul on the play put the ball on the 48.
Next play, Harris ran around left end and didn't stop until reaching the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown.
He also ran in the 2-point conversion, cutting Pulaski's lead to 21-18 with 2:10 left.
The Maroons recovered an onsides kick, though.
"We didn't play well enough to win," Clark said. "That's a good football team and, in order to beat them you're going to have to play good football.
"Our defense played better in the second half. To hold that team to 21 is outstanding. ... We've got to play better up front offensively if we're going to play in big-time games like that."
Pulaski County 21, Madison Southern 18
Pulaski County 21 0 0 0—21
Madison Southern 10 0 0 8—18
PC—George Gregory 22 pass from Riley Hall (Derek Burgett kick); MS—Garrison Watts 25 field goal; PC—Jake Johnson 5 pass from Hall (Burgett kick); MS—Damien Harris 57 run (Watts kick); PC—Aaron Smith 81 kickoff return (Burgett kick); MS—Harris 52 run (Harris run).
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.