Three years ago, Columbus East won the Class 4A state championship behind a large and talented senior class and dominating junior running back Markell Jones.

Although no freshmen played for the Olympians in that 28-27 victory against Fort Wayne Dwenger, several were on the sidelines at Lucas Oil Stadium to experience the school’s second state title. Those freshmen are now seniors and have helped lead East to another state finals appearance.

“It was amazing — unlike anything else I’ve ever witnessed,” senior center Harry Crider said. “As a freshman coming in, it was really eye opening to see all the work the seniors put in to get to that point, and that provided motivation for us to get to that point. It would mean a lot more if we go out there and earn it ourselves instead of just being along for the ride.”

The fourth-ranked Olympians (13-1) will play No. 5 Westfield (11-2) for the 5A championship at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

Crider, an Indiana recruit, actually dressed for that 2013 state title game. A handful of other freshmen at the time were on the field.

“It was a great experience just because you’re a freshman and just got moved up, and now you’re watching the state game,” senior linebacker T.C. O’Neal said.

Senior wide receiver Caleb Voelker felt the same way.

“We had watched them, and we were working with them,” Voelker said. “Some of us were on the scout teams, so it was nice to see how all their hard work paid off.”

Junior quarterback Josh Major was an eighth-grader at Central Middle School when East last played for a state title. He remembers watching the game from the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Senior tight end Bryce Duffett, who was on the field for that game, figures the seniors who were there in 2013 won’t be in awe on Saturday night.

“It was kind of cool to support them and realize that’s where we could be, and now, we’re finally there,” Duffett said. “Being in that environment again, since we’ve already experienced it once, we know what it’s going to be like having all those people there. There’s going to be 10 or 20,000 people there, hopefully.”

This year’s seniors went 6-3 as freshmen. Freshman coach John Sims remembers head coach Bob Gaddis talking to the freshman after the season and telling them that they had a lot of potential, and if they kept working, they had a chance to possibly play for a state championship.

The Olympians took that to heart. They’re back in the state finals for the second time in four seasons.

“It’s great for our kids and our community to get back again,” Gaddis said. “One of the toughest things to do I think in high school athletics is to get to the state finals in football because it takes five wins, and a lot can happen in five weeks in just a high school kid’s life, so I’m really proud of our kids for making a good run.”

If you go

What: Class 5A state finals

Teams: Columbus East (13-1) vs. Westfield (11-2)

When: 7:05 p.m. Saturday

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

Admission: $15

Presale tickets: Available in East athletics office from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and at East’s home girls basketball game from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Weekend schedule:

Friday

Noon: Class 2A, Eastbrook (13-1) vs. Indianapolis Ritter (10-4)

3:30 p.m.: Class 4A, Northwood (14-0) vs. Roncalli (14-0)

7:05 p.m.: Class 6A, Carmel (12-1) vs. Center Grove (12-1)

Saturday

Noon: Class A, Pioneer (14-0) vs. Linton (14-0)

3:30 p.m.: Class 3A, Fort Wayne Concordia (12-2) vs. Lawrenceburg (13-1)

7:05 p.m.: Class 5A, Columbus East (13-1) vs. Westfield (11-2)

If you can't go

If you can’t attend Saturday’s Class 5A championship football game in person, it will be broadcast on Fox Sports Indiana. The cable channel will broadcast five of the six state championship football games, with the lone exception being Friday’s Class 6A game, which will be on Fox Sports Indiana Plus because of an overlap with Indiana Pacers game coverage.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.