ZIONSVILLE — A game that featured a big display of offense in the first half came down to a couple of fourth-and-1 plays in the final 4½ minutes.
Zionsville didn’t make it. Columbus East did.
As a result, the Olympians held on for a 42-35 victory to claim its fifth regional championship in the past six years and its first in Class 5A.
The Eagles (6-6) looked like they were going in for the game-tying score in the closing minutes. But on fourth-and-1 from the East 5, the Olympians (12-1) threw Brenden Mikesell for a 1-yard loss with 3:22 remaining.
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After picking up a pair of first downs, East had it fourth-and-1 at its own 37 in the final minute. With Zionsville out of timeouts, Olympians coach Bob Gaddis went for the first down, and Jamon Hogan picked up three yards to seal the win.
“We said all along we came here to win it, and I didn’t want to let our kids down,” Gaddis said. “We said, ‘Boys, this is the time we need to run the football,’ and we got the first down and won the football game.”
East finished with 406 yards rushing. Hogan carried 29 times for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
But the biggest three yards came on that fourth-and-1.
“I was a little nervous, but I had confidence that our line was going to give me a good push, and I was going to get it,” Hogan said.
The offensive line also had confidence.
“That’s what we practice for all year,” center Harry Crider said. “Coach always says we have to run the ball when we want to and need to, and we definitely needed to there at the end. Our O-line pulled through and paved the way to get that final first down.”
Both teams scored only once in the second half. That was a sharp contrast to the first half, when they scored almost at will, with the Olympians going into the break with a 35-28 lead.
The Eagles used a big return on the opening kickoff from Brenden Mikesell to set up a 29-yard touchdown pass from Blake Levy to Brock Bishop. East answered with a 29-yard run by Hogan, then after a Jonah Wichman interception, a 5-yard run from quarterback Josh Major to take a 14-7 lead.
Mikesell and Hogan then exchanged touchdown runs the rest of the first half. One of Hogan’s scores came on a 92-yard run after the Olympians started at their own 8.
“We knew we had to keep putting points up,” Major said. “We respected their offense because they were able to keep putting points up. But in the end, it just came down to our defense making a great play and saving the game for us.”
Major finished with 20 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns. His 48-yard run on the second offensive play of the second half gave East a 42-28 lead.
But Zionsville didn’t go away. Mikesell, who finished with 205 yards on 31 carries, scored on a 5-yard-run with 11:50 remaining to make it a one-score game.
Then, after being forced to put, it was up to the Olympians defense to come up with a big stop.
“They’re as good an offense as we’ve seen,” Gaddis said. “They really ran it up and down the field in the first half, but the second half, our kids showed a lot of character. It was a great team win.”
East, ranked No. 4 in 5A, moves on to play at 5A No. 3 Bloomington South in the semistate.
“Final Four — it means a lot for this team,” Crider said. “We get to put another banner up on the wall. We’re happy to be in this position, and we’re ready to keep moving on to the next step.”