Thirty-six minutes of pomp and circumstance, pressure-cooker football had passed Friday night and none of the big-play offensive players had made a truly remarkable play.
Aside from a couple of grinding drives by both teams, the Columbus North/Columbus East rivalry game was being dominated by defense, with the Olympians, who eventually pulled out the 28-21 victory, clinging to a 14-13 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The stars to that point mostly were defenders, East defensive end Quade Greiwe and linebacker T.C. O’Neal, North defensive tackle Coleman Tennyson and safety Mitchell Kelly.
It was crunch this and slam that, these supposed sprint stars twisted into a pile of offensive rubble.
Behind them were a host of other defenders … and if I had the space I could rattle off another 20 names … whose hard-hitting theatrics had elevated the game to a classic status usually reserved for Star Wars offensive football.
This was an amazing high school atmosphere and a game to match. And that was through three quarters.
Let’s face it, though, everyone loves offense, especially when it comes in big chunks.
The six- to seven-thousand fans who had squeezed into every nook and cranny of Columbus East’s shiny new football facility had to be hoping for an offensive thrill.
Those in orange got their wish.
East tailback Steven O’Neal, the little engine who could, or better yet just a plain O’s locomotive, went on a sweep to the left and disappeared into a horde of hulking North defenders.
Perhaps, just perhaps, East has a secret tunnel buried beneath its field because somehow, some way, the 5-foot-8 O’Neal came popping out from under the mass of humanity.
East’s faithful let out a deafening roar. O’Neal was loose.
By the time he was done, O’Neal was standing in the end zone with a 63-yard touchdown run that tilted the rivalry in East’s favor. North’s student “white out” section went blank while East’s side was pulsing.
It was at this point that the drama seemed to reach its zenith, but then North wide receiver Alex Algee kicked it up another notch.
Algee took a swing pass and exploded for 45 yards, getting run down at the East 15-yard line. When North quarterback Triston Perry connected with Wyatt Barkes for a 15-yard scoring pass, and Perry made a mad dash after a fumble for two-point conversion, it was .. you betcha … tied at 21-21.
If we all went home at that point, everyone would have had a fun story to tell, but that’s not how these rivalry games work. And East, after all, had O’Neal in the backfield and an offensive line that had to be tired of getting kicked around.
What followed was a nine-play, 58-yard drive in which O’Neal carried five times for 47 yards that included a 25-yard burst. Linebacker Sam Dwenger came over from the defensive side to blast over from the 1 as a fullback to give East its final margin of victory at 28-21.
And while the final chapter of the rivalry game had been written, the book on the season is in its early stages. North’s losing fate on Friday can be summed up in a couple of ways.
One, the Bull Dogs didn’t play a clean game. Punts and fumbles and holding penalties need to be cleaned up if championships are to be won.
Two, well, I will let East coach Bob Gaddis explain this one. Gaddis says that you can’t beat great teams with smoke and mirrors. You have to execute.
With a couple of minutes left and the game still up for grabs, Algee ran away from East’s defensive backs. Perry heaved a ball that went a half yard too far, and the Olympians slammed the door shut from there. North had four or five other plays that, egads, almost worked.
North is a team under construction, a squad learning what it takes to be a champion, and that’s making the biggest plays at the most crucial moments. Will the Bull Dogs move forward from here? I say absolutely yes. North can’t get Friday night’s missed opportunities back, but they can hit them down the road.
East, on the other hand, has learned previously what it is like to perform on the biggest stages, with fans lining the field and banners to be awarded. They repeatedly were punched in the gut on Friday, and kept coming.
Did we expect anything less?