BLOOMINGTON — When a steady rain began to fall prior to kickoff in Friday night’s semistate battle, Bob Gaddis couldn’t help but smile.
The Columbus East coach has one of the state’s most potent running games, and the Olympians were facing a Bloomington South team that liked to throw the football. The weather played right into East’s hands.
East threw the ball only once all night, and that went for a touchdown that sparked it to a 35-15 victory and a berth in next week’s Class 5A state finals.
“We tell our kids in June, we’re going to build a football team to win in November,” Gaddis said. “Our kids bought into it, and they kept getting better. When we had this weather, it didn’t bother us at all. When it started raining tonight, I got a little bit of a smile on my face.”
The Class 5A No. 4 Olympians (13-1) took the opening kickoff and went 78 yards in seven plays. On third-and-7 from the 11, Josh Major hit tight end Tyler Thomas along the left sideline, and Thomas took it in for the score.
Class 5A No. 3 Bloomington South (11-2) answered with a drive of its own. The Panthers had a first-and-goal from the 3, but three plays netted minus-2 yards, and they had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Arie Bland.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cam Wilson fielded the ball at his 15, took it straight ahead, then cut to his left and went down the left sideline for an 85-yard return.
After East held Bloomington South without a first down, the Olympians took over at their own 36, and Hogan went 64 yards on the first play for a 21-3 lead. East again held the Panthers, and on the Olympians, second play, Hogan went 79 yards for a score.
“The O-line was giving me some good holes to go through, and I just took them and went for as many yards as I could,” said Hogan, who ran for 240 of his 276 yards in the first half. “It’s a great feeling knowing I did what I needed to do to help the team.”
East looked like it would go into halftime with a 28-3 lead, but got a major gift just before the half. Linebacker Zack O’Connor intercepted a bobbled pass and returned it 27 yards for a score, and the Olympians led 35-3 at the break.
“That was a huge play,” Gaddis said. “In big games like this, special teams are going to be big, and we had a special teams touchdown. Turnovers are going to be big, and you have to run the football and stop the run. I thought our kids came out and executed our plan to a ‘T.’”
Bloomington South did manage a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to cut into the lead. Gavin Yeskie hit Luke Jager for a 23-yard score on its first drive of the second half, and Kristian Pechac ran 80 yards on the final play of the third quarter.
But then East ran almost the first 9 minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter to salt the game away.
“I thought our defense played their tail ends off,” Gaddis said. “Our offense gets a lot of credit, and everybody talks about our offensive line and the way we run the ball, but tonight, our defense showed up. That was a really good offensive football team, and they did a great job battling against them.”
Defensive back Jonah Wichman agreed.
“(Defensive coordinator Eddie) Vogel says to win in November, it comes down to getting stops on defense,” Wichman said. “We played good team defense and stopped them.”
The Olympians advance to the Nov. 26 state championship game, where they will play the winner of Friday’s northern semistate between Fort Wayne Snider and Westfield. That game did not end before The Republic’s deadline.
East is back in the state finals since winning a title in 2013.
“This is what we’ve been working for,” Hogan said. “Like coach Gaddis always says, we want to come in playing our best in November, and that’s what we’re doing.”