To call Center Grove a nemesis for Columbus North football would be a massive understatement.
The Trojans have dominated the Bull Dogs on North’s home field in the sectional each of the past three years. Center Grove has knocked the Bull Dogs out of the tournament five of the past six seasons.
On Friday night, North will get another shot at the Trojans. They’ll visit Center Grove for the sectional championship at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It’s certainly a huge challenge having a perennial powerhouse such as Center Grove in your sectional,” North coach Tim Bless said. “But in Class 6A, we’re down to 16 teams, and there’s no free lunches. On paper, Center Grove doesn’t have as many wins this year, but they’re ranked No. 4 in the Sagarin ratings, so that tells you how great their schedule is. But we feel great about where we’re at. We’ve gotten better each and every week, and our kids are excited for the challenge.”
The Trojans, who won the Class 6A state title in 2015 and lost to Carmel in overtime in last year’s state title game, went only 4-5 during the regular season. But four of their losses came in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, and another came to perennial power Cathedral.
Center Grove is a run-oriented offense, led by freshman Carson Steele, who has 215 carries for 1,308 yards and 16 touchdowns. Junior Jackson Moore, son of coach Eric Moore, has completed 66 of 114 passes for 900 yards and seven touchdowns, with six interceptions.
“To have success against Center Grove, you have to hold your own at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Bless said. “They’re built on physicality, discipline and fundamentals, and to be in the game late, we have to match all three of those.”
The Bull Dogs could have an extra weapon at their disposal this week. Sophomore running back Ethan Rogers, who has been ineligible since transferring from Columbus East, became eligible this week.
Rogers will join a loaded North backfield that includes senior Cortez Bandy, who has been the starter most of the season, and junior Michael Johnson, who started in Friday’s 56-14 win against Jeffersonville. The Bull Dogs also have freshman Blake Huffman, who led them with 97 yards rushing on 17 carries Friday.
“Running back is probably the deepest position on the team right now,” Bless said. “We’re happy to have Ethan to add to the ranks.”
East seeks sectional title
The first two weeks of the sectional, Columbus East has beaten Seymour and Bedford North Lawrence more handily than it did in regular-season meetings against those teams.
Friday, the Class 5A No. 2 Olympians will face another team it beat in the regular season. East led Floyd Central 42-0 on its way to a 55-7 win in Week 6.
“I think the thing that you’re always concerned about anytime you play a team a second time is how your kids prepare,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “Our big motto this week is that we’re going to respect our opponent and prepare to win a sectional championship, but they’re going to do the same thing. They’re going to do some things that they were successful at the last time and build on the positives.”
The Olympians (10-1) will be seeking their sixth sectional title in the past seven years.
The Highlanders (8-2) have won four in a row since their loss to East. Floyd Central has gone to more of a power offense and tried to control the ball in those games.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, and we have to prepare to win this week,” Gaddis said. “Since the last time we’ve played, they’ve changed their offensive philosophy a little bit. They’ve won the ball control battle in the games since they played us. They want to run the ball offensively to set up the play-action pass. They’re a very solid, well-coached football team.”
Gaddis said his team is about as healthy as it has been all season. Senior linebacker Zack O’Connor, who was injured in the regular-season finale against Bedford and missed the sectional opener at Seymour, returned for last week’s 56-14 win against Bedford. Senior cornerback Caleb Pettit, who was injured at Seymour didn’t play last week, but returned to practice on Monday.
East, North outscore foes
The Columbus East and Columbus North girls basketball teams outscored their opponents in controlled scrimmages Tuesday night.
The Olympians won all four quarters in outscoring Jennings County 61-31. Britney Ballard led East with 20 points, while Whitley Rankin scored 14 and Addy Galarno added 13. Sarah Park grabbed eight rebounds.
Baylee Byford led the Panthers with nine points.
The Bull Dogs won the first two quarters at Brownstown Central before the Braves won the third and the teams tied the fourth. North outscored Brownstown 47-34 in those four varsity quarters.
Nadia Lomax led the Bull Dogs with 14 points. Tessa Lomax added nine points and 10 rebounds.
Locals selected All-District
Three boys and three girls from Columbus have been named to this year’s Indiana Soccer Coaches Association All-District 4 first teams.
The boys squad includes East seniors Eli Newell and Scott Hammond and North junior Alex McGill. The girls team features North senior Liz Tynan and junior Tanner Johnson and East sophomore Lindsey Stoughton.
North junior Elise Whitley and East freshman Alana Dwenger are girls honorable mention All-District selections.
Senior named North MVP
Senior Danbi Kim, who finished fifth in the state finals and earned All-State honors, has been selected MVP of the Columbus North girls golf team.
Seniors Julia Luken and Molly Donnell shared the team’s Bull Dog Award. Junior Alex Munnicha won the Consistency Award, and sophomore Nicole Duncan won the Most Improved Award.