Clinging to a seven-point lead in the closing minutes Friday night, the Columbus East defense needed a stop in the worst way.
Zionsville, which faced a fourth-and-1 at the Olympians 5-yard line, had enjoyed success running the ball all night. Brenden Mikesell already had more than 200 yards and four touchdowns and was poised for another.
The East defense had other ideas.
Led by an unheralded defensive line, the Olympians threw Mikesell for a 1-yard loss. East then ran out the clock to preserve a 42-35 regional victory.
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“We were pretty sure it was going to come down to getting stops, like coach (Bob Gaddis) always says,” senior defensive end Zach Sutton said. “We knew it was a big play in the game since they were pretty close to scoring. We just put all our faith in the D-line.”
That D-line is an unheralded group, void of a superstar. The Olympians have several standouts on offense and a couple on defense, but the defensive line has produced amid relative anonymity.
Gaddis said that’s the nature of the football.
“The glamour positions are the offensive skill guys and the linebackers and safeties,” Gaddis said. “You don’t hear much about offensive linemen and defensive linemen. A lot of people have talked about our offensive line and how they’ve played, but we’ve been really happy with the progress of our defensive line.”
Sutton has the biggest numbers of the defensive linemen. He ranks fifth on the team with 48 tackles, second with six tackles for losses and first with four sacks.
Junior backup defensive end Ty Henderson has the second-most tackles among the defensive linemen with 33. Senior end Clayton Cordier and senior tackle Ben Jenkins each have 27 tackles, and junior tackle Cole McCarter has 26.
“Coach has stressed all year, ‘You have to play unselfish,’ Cordier said. “You’re not always going to get the play, but what you do causes the the other people to get the play. You just have to be unselfish and play great team defense.”
Cordier and Henderson were starters last year. Sutton and McCarter also saw varsity action in backup roles.
Jenkins, who played safety on the junior varsity team last season, is new to the defensive line.
“It’s a lot different,” Jenkins said. “It’s more physical. It’s a lot more using your hands and less running.”
McCarter, Cordier and senior backup defensive tackle Isaac Doss led the initial surge that stopped Mikesell on that fateful fourth down play at Zionsville.
The defensive linemen realize they’re going to have to come up with a lot more stops on Friday when Class 5A No. 4 East visits 5A No. 3 Bloomington South. The winner advances to the Nov. 26 state title game.
“We feel like our defense has played well as a team, and we have to put together a good game this Friday,” McCarter said. “We mainly have to stop the run and stop the high-percentage pass and get them off the field. That’s going to take a four-quarter effort.”
Cordier said it’s a matter of getting back to fundamentals.
“A couple weeks, we’ve been slacking on basic fundamentals, so this week, we really have to focus on what we’ve been learning since the summertime,” Cordier said.
A look at Columbus East’s starting defensive line
Defensive end;Clayton Cordier;6-0;220;Sr.
Defensive end;Zach Sutton;6-2;195;Sr.
Defensive tackle;Ben Jenkins;6-0;210;Sr.
Defensive tackle;Cole McCarter;6-1;240;Jr.