INDIANAPOLIS — Columbus North’s execution in the last seven minutes of the regular-season finale at Southport helped spoil the Cardinals fourth-quarter comeback effort.

The Bull Dogs were clinging to a seven-point lead with just under three minutes left when quarterback Trenton Kelley used his legs to convert on a crucial fourth-and-4. Running back Cortez Bandy scored on a 19-yard touchdown run two plays later to help North claim a 28-14 win in the battle for second place in Conference Indiana.

“That (fourth-down conversion) was a huge play … we needed an answer there badly, and our offense stepped up in a big way,” North coach Tim Bless said. “It was a spread out pass, but Trenton saw a lane there. He’s a gutsy competitor, and he sprinted in there and made the first down for us.”

The Cardinals (5-4, 5-2) had the ball with two minutes remaining, and Cortez Villa took away any chance of a final comeback with a fumble recovery. The Bull Dogs (8-1, 6-1) played keep away and ran out the rest of the clock.

The first score didn’t come until halfway through the second quarter, but the North defense helped it get the early lead by allowing only 75 total yards in the first half. Southport’s offense came alive in the final drive of the third quarter and scored 14 consecutive points.

However, Bless said he was pleased with how the defense played for the entire game.

“If you would have asked me pregame, ‘Hey would you take a defensive performance that only gives up 14 points to Southport?’ I’d say absolutely,” Bless said. “In the big picture, I’m very pleased with how our defense played. I thought we played phenomenal in the first half.”

The Bull Dogs showcased their big play capability with six passing plays going for 18 yards or more. Receiver Jaylen Flemmons had six catches for 83 yards, while Tristan Bailey had four catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Kelley ended with 216 passing yards and two touchdowns.

“I think we started off slow with a couple punts, but then we started to warm up and see how we could get moves off of our defenders, and we actually started to make plays,” Bailey said. “It’s also good to get the momentum, and it’s awesome to see what we can start doing and how we can get better as a team to be successful in the tournament.”

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.