BLOOMINGTON — Columbus North’s bid for its first undefeated regular season since 1959 will have to wait at least another year.
Bloomington South buried the Bull Dogs in a big hole early, and North never fully recovered in dropping its first game of the season, a 42-28 setback in a battle for first place in Conference Indiana.
The Class 5A No. 5 Panthers rolled up 570 yards of total offense. More than 400 of that came from junior Gavin Yeskie, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns and carried nine times for another 65 yards.
“Their quarterback made plays all night long,” North coach Tim Bless said. “(Bloomington South coach) Mo (Moriarity) made a comment earlier in the year that he had the best quarterback in the state of Indiana. I would give that support after watching him live tonight.”
Junior Chris Bomba caught nine passes for 214 yards and two scores, and senior Luke Jager added four catches for 109 yards and a score for the Panthers (7-1, 6-0). Another junior, Kristian Pechac ran for 140 yards and a score.
Pechac’s touchdown, an 80-yarder, was the backbreaker. It came after the 6A No. 4 Bull Dogs (7-1, 5-1) had cut the lead to 35-21 early in the fourth quarter.
“(Bomba) is a phenomenal wideout,” Bless said. “(Jager) is a phenomenal wideout. They have a Division I running back and a Division I quarterback, and they’re great up front.”
The loss spoiled a big night on the ground from North senior Mitchell Burton. The Miami (Ohio) recruit carried 25 times for 254 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Bull Dogs from getting blown out.
Bloomington South took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Yeskie to Drake Smith.
“That first drive, we had them in third down three or four times and let them off the hook every time,” Bless said. “Certainly, there are things we could have done better, but they just made plays.”
Then, after a North three-and-out, Yeskie found Bomba behind the secondary for an 80-yard score and a quick 14-0 lead. After another Bull Dogs three-and-out, the Panthers drove for another touchdown, this one coming on a 3-yard run from Tavaras Rochell out of the Wildcat formation.
After two exchanges of punts, North finally got on the board. Burton went around the left side for an 82-yard scoring run, and the Bull Dogs were within 21-7 with 8:18 left in the first half.
The Panthers extended the lead to 28-7 after Ysekie found Luke Jager for a 70-yard score. North had the ball back two more times in the half, but could not threaten.
In the first half alone, Yeskie completed 10 of 17 passes for 276 yards, and Bomba caught six passes for 174 yards.
“We were slow starting on offense,” Bless said. “We got our traction a little bit in the second half and put some points on the board.”
The Bull Dogs took the second-half kickoff and drove for a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Triston Perry. But Bloomington South answered with a 7-yard Yeskie-to-Bomba touchdown to make it 35-14.
North again got within two scores after Burton ran 68 yards for a score with 10:32 remaining. But then Pechac broke loose on the Panthers’ second play from scrimmage.
The Bull Dogs then drove 78 yards in 14 plays, capped by a 2-yard run from Burton to cut the lead to 42-28 with 4:54 left. But after a failed onside kick attempt, Bloomington South ran out the clock.
The Panthers, who were 6 of 8 in converting on third-and-7 or longer, clinched a least a tie for the conference title. North’s only hope for a share of the title now is with a win against Southport next week and a Bloomington South loss to Perry Meridian.
“We hit a buzzsaw tonight,” Bless said. “They played great offensive football, and I would like to think we did not play our best defensive game. Obviously, we’ll regroup and take a look at video and try to be a better football team next week than we were this week.”