The Game: Tonight, crosstown rivalry resumes on football field

Columbus East has been ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A in previous years.

Tonight, the Olympians will play their first game as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A. All that does is a little more intrigue to what has become one of the state’s biggest rivalry games.

“This has been a great rivalry since I’ve been involved with it,” said East coach Bob Gaddis, whose team will host Columbus North at 7 p.m. “It’s a unique rivalry, and within this rivalry, there’s been a lot of different players that have made big plays on both sides.”

Following Monday’s practice, Gaddis talked to his team about his 2004 squad. The Olympians had lost to the Bull Dogs in his first three years at East before breaking through that year with a 13-7 win at North.

That Olympians team went on to win its first 13 games before falling to eventual 4A state champion Roncalli by one point in the semistate.

“That night (against North), we made a big play, and it was one that really kind of got us over the top as far as where our program is now,” Gaddis said. “That group really raised the bar for our program.”

The North-East series is deadlocked at 22-22 in regular-season games. The Olympians won the only postseason contest 27-26 in 2009.

The Bull Dogs beat East in 2010 and 2011, but then the Olympians won four consecutive times from 2012-15. North snapped that streak last year with a 30-13 victory.

“Each year is a new rivalry game, so what happened in 2016 we don’t think is going to have any bearing on this year’s game,” North coach Tim Bless said. “Sure, we come into the game with confidence, but so does Columbus East. It’s just going to be a battle of two really good football teams.”

The Bull Dogs opened the season last week with a 41-0 shoutout at Franklin. The Olympians picked up a 42-17 victory at Bloomington North.

Gaddis said at this time of year, a lot of what his team does is focused on itself. He tells his players that they can make a lot of improvement early in the season because they get to go against other people after going against themselves most of the summer.

“We feel like the things that we emphasized last week in practice that we didn’t do in the scrimmage, we improved at,” Gaddis said. “Do we still need to improve? Absolutely. But the good news is, I think our players can see that if we focus and work at it, we have a chance to be pretty good.”

North junior Trenton Kelley played his first full game at quarterback last week and completed 15 of 24 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Cortez Bandy carried 23 times for 125 yards and two scores, and junior D’Andre Scruggs caught five passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, East seniors Josh Major and Jamon Hogan picked up where they left off last season. Major completed all nine of his passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, while Hogan carried 17 times for 158 yards and three scores in the opener.

“You have to make them drive the ball down the field,” Bless said. “They’re so explosive with the big plays. They’ll run the ball on you, run the ball and then they’ll hit you with a deep pass, and what we’ve talked about is, ‘We can’t get bored doing our job.’ The moment we lose our focus and/or try to do someone else’s job is the moment that their athletes capitalize, and then a big play happens in a heartbeat.”

Tonight’s matchup:

Columbus North at Columbus East

Game time: 7 p.m.

Records: Columbus North 1-0, Columbus East 1-0

Last year’s meeting: Columbus North won 30-13 at North

Coaches: Tim Bless is 126-88 in his 20th year, including 114-79 in his 18th year at Columbus North; Bob Gaddis is 291-133 in his 39th year, including 173-33 in his 17th year at Columbus East.

Key players: Columbus North QB Trenton Kelley, RB Cortez Bandy, WR Jaylen Flemmons, WR Tristan Bailey, WR/CB J.D. Harris, OT/DT Logan Abbott; Columbus East QB Josh Major, RB Jamon Hogan, TE Tyler Thomas, OT Zach Clark, CB Jonah Wichman, S Ethan Summa.

What to watch for: This should be one of the best games in series history. Both teams are coming off impressive victories in their season openers and figure to be headed for plenty of wins this fall. These likely will be the best teams each other play during the regular season. The Bull Dogs and Olympians appear to be evenly matched, and home-field advantage could be the difference.

Prediction: Columbus East 28, Columbus North 25

Other area games:

Greensburg at Jennings County, 7 p.m.

Brown County at South Putnam, 7 p.m.

North Decatur at Edinburgh, 7 p.m.

South Decatur at Eastern Hancock, 7 p.m.

Next week’s games:

Columbus East at Seymour, 7 p.m.

Bloomington North at Columbus North, 7 p.m.

Jennings County at New Albany, 7 p.m.

Cascade at Brown County, 7 p.m.

Oldenburg Academy at Edinburgh, 7 p.m.

Trinity Lutheran at South Decatur, 7 p.m.

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