When Mitchell Burton wasn’t putting up the rushing numbers at the beginning of this season that he did last year, critics were quick to blame Columbus North’s offensive line.
But in those first few games, the Bull Dogs’ passing game with Triston Perry developed, and opposing defenses couldn’t keep stacking the box to stop the run. Burton has rushed for more than 200 yards each of the past three weeks, thanks in large part to an offensive line that never got discouraged.
“It was kind of rough starting out,” senior left tackle David Redding said. “Mitchell wasn’t getting the yards that everybody thought he would. We were facing eight- to nine-man boxes because we were running with only six blockers. I think that’s why people were kind of blaming the offensive line early in the season. Now that Triston is putting up good numbers with his arm, defenses are also respecting that, so we’re seeing more balanced defenses.”
Burton had his biggest game of the season Friday night, albeit in North’s first loss of the season. He carried 24 times for 252 yards and three touchdowns at Bloomington South.
For the season, Burton has rushed for 1,344 yards and 17 scores for the Bull Dogs, who are ranked No. 6 in Class 6A.
“Each week, we just keep getting better,” senior center Daniel Hill said.
Four of the five linemen are returning starters — Redding, Hill, senior right guard Alex Downin and senior right tackle Cameron Corbin. Junior Logan Abbott has stepped in at left guard.
Senior Tanner Payne, who saw some action as a backup tight end and quarterback last season, is now the starting tight end.
“It gives you a great sense of confidence to come into a season with a veteran group on the offensive line — probably the most critical position in football — and they’ve lived up to our expectations,” North coach Tim Bless said. “We had high hopes that we would be a balanced offense, and we’d be very dynamic in our throwing game and have a powerful rushing attack, and that’s certainly come to fruition thus far.”
Redding has committed to play at Western Michigan next year. Payne could play at Rose-Hulman or Centre (Kentucky), and Downin is looking at multiple football programs.
Downin said the offensive line really works together as a unit.
“We love punching people in the face when we run,” Downin said. “But sometimes, passing is necessary.”
“Throughout the week, coaches come up with a blocking scheme, and we practice it,” Redding said. “When you see those holes open up, that’s because everybody gets the guy that they’re responsible for.”
While the Bull Dogs would like to make a deep run in the postseason, they know they can’t look ahead. They are hoping to bounce back from last week’s loss and gear up for Friday’s senior night game against Southport to close the regular season.
North will have next week off before beginning sectional play Oct. 28 at New Albany. If the Bull Dogs win, they would likely host Center Grove in the sectional final the following week.
“We’re just focused on the next week, so we have to focus on Southport,” Payne said. “Like (assistant) coach (Jason) Perry said, ‘We can’t let B-South beat us twice.’ We have to put that behind us and play well this week and just take it week by week.”
Columbus North’s offensive line: