Bull Dogs blank Braves, improve to 5-0

TERRE HAUTE — If Columbus North coach Tim Bless was worried about his team getting off to a slow start after a long bus ride to Terre Haute South, his fears were put to rest quickly after kickoff.

The Class 6A No. 5 Bull Dogs scored 28 points in the game’s first eight minutes and went on to roll to a 54-0 Conference Indiana win.

“It’s always a business trip,” junior linebacker Andrew Chapman said. “We stay focused the whole ride up, no horseplay, and focus on what we have to do.”

North (5-0, 3-0) needed less than three minutes to score its first two touchdowns. After a five-play drive ended in a 9-yard touchdown run by Mitchell Burton, safety Harley Huser picked off an Evan Steppe pass and returned it 28 yards for a score.

The Braves (0-5, 0-3) inserted a new quarterback for its second offensive series, but the result was about the same. Linebacker Tucker Payne intercepted a Collins Turner pass and returned it 38 yards to the 3. Two plays later, quarterback Triston Perry sneaked in from the 1, and the Bull Dogs led 21-0.

“Defense was very opportunistic early,” Bless said. “We had two or three turnovers right away defensively, which took the wind out of Terre Haute South’s sails.”

On North’s next two possessions, Perry converted third-down touchdowns passes of 56 yards to James Garrett and 20 yards to Huser. At that point, the Bull Dogs led 34-0 with 10:59 still left in the first half.

North added one more touchdown before halftime. On fourth-and-13, from the Terre Haute South 27, Perry found Tristan Bailey over the middle for a 27-yard score. That touchdown was set up by an interception by Cortez Bandy.

“I was real excited because I’ve been getting picked on a lot,” Bandy said. “I drop almost every ball in practice, so I was glad to catch one tonight.”

If there was any doubt about the outcome, the Bull Dogs put it to rest with touchdowns on their first two second-half possessions. Burton ran 56 yards for a score, and Bandy went 39 yards with 3:56 left in the third quarter.

From there, North went to its bench, pulling its starters for the fourth quarter.

“Our linebackers are flying to the ball,” Chapman said. “Our D-line is killing it. Our safeties are doing good. Our corners are locking down. If everybody does their job, it works.”

The shutout was the second in a row for the Bull Dogs, who blanked Franklin Central 40-0 last week.

“It all starts up front, and our run defense is so stout,” Bless said. “Linebackers are obviously making plays when we need to. Then the secondary, this is as athletic a shell as we’ve had.”

North is off to its first 5-0 start since 2007. The Bull Dogs went 12-2 and advanced to the state’s final four that year.

“We played a great two-week stretch,” Bless said. “We feel great about where we’re at. But what we’ve been talking about within the program, we want to better next week than we were the week before.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.