The task is a monumental one, but Columbus North is ready for the challenge.
The Bull Dogs open Class 6A sectional action tonight against the state’s top-ranked team, undefeated Center Grove. The Trojans have knocked North out of the sectional three of the past four years, including 42-7 in 2012 and 54-7 last year.
Center Grove, which ran the table in the rugged Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, is ranked No. 10 in the nation in USA Today’s computer rankings.
But the Bull Dogs (6-3) are having their best season since 2011. They’ll look for their first victory against the Trojans since 2007, which is the last time North won a sectional title.
“It’s an opportunity to play on a big stage, which is what kids dream about when they’re young,” North coach Tim Bless said. “This opportunity is right here in front of us, so we don’t want to be puckered up. We want to be loose. We want to be relaxed and throw punch after punch.”
Center Grove is coming off a 7-0 shutout of Class 6A No. 5 Cathedral and is allowing only 14.7 points a game, which ranks third among the state’s 6A schools. That defense is led by senior tackles Cameron Tidd, who has committed to Vanderbilt, and Jovan Swann, who has multiple Division I offers, including Stanford.
“Their two interior guys get a lot of attention, justifiably so,” Bless said. “But their whole defense is really good. Not to minimize what they can do in their Wing-T offense, but their defense is dominant.”
Senior quarterback Joey Siderwicz, who runs that Wing-T, throws less than 10 times a game. But he has completed 66 percent of his passes for 721 yards and six touchdowns, with only one interception.
Junior Titus McCoy has been Center Grove’s top rusher with 1,225 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“We have to play assignment sound football,” Bless said. “We have guys who have been successful all year long. This is the best defense we will have played to date, but we’ve played some really good defenses, and we’ve moved the ball and we’ve scored points. So that’s the expectation going into this game, as well.”
Meanwhile, in Class 5A, second-ranked and undefeated Columbus East will travel to 1-8 Franklin. The Cubs’ lone win was a 10-7 decision at Martinsville in Week 5.
Adam Reese, who was an assistant at Mishawaka when it reached the 4A state finals in 2012, is in his third year directing the Franklin program. The Cubs run the triple option, which is the same offense the Olympians saw in last week’s 56-21 win against Bedford North Lawrence.
“They’re pretty young, but I’m really impressed with how hard they play,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “Especially offensively, they do a great job with running the triple option. (Reese) has an answer for a lot of different fronts, so it’s going to be a hard offense to slow down.”
Columbus East at Franklin, 7 p.m.
Center Grove at Columbus North, 7 p.m.
Shelbyville at Jennings County, 7 p.m.
Corydon Central at Brown County, 7 p.m.
South Decatur at Eastern Greene, 7 p.m.
Oldenburg Academy at Edinburgh 7 p.m.
Franklin County at Seymour, 7 p.m.