The game plan Columbus North had put together for Friday’s sectional final at Center Grove went out the window two minutes into the game.
Junior quarterback Trenton Kelley was knocked out of the game on an interception on the Bull Dogs’ first series. Jaylen Flemmons stepped in and threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns, but North came up just short in a 20-14 loss.
The news wasn’t good for Kelley. He was first taken to Community South, then transferred to Methodist Hospital. Team doctor Cary Guse said Kelley had a ruptured spleen.
Still, the Bull Dogs (9-2) battled valiantly. They trailed 17-0 with a minute left in the first half, but got on the board with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Flemmons to J.D. Harris with 39 seconds left to cut the lead to 17-7.
The Trojans (6-5) used a Luke Eckert field goal on the first drive of the second half to extend the lead to 20-7. But then Eckert missed a pair of field goals, allowing North to remain in the game.
“I had a really good feeling when we held them to a field goal to start the second half,” said acting North coach Jason Perry. “Our defense was just tremendous tonight. They scratched and clawed the entire game.”
The Bull Dogs finally capitalized with 4:25 left in the game when Flemmons hit Harris for a 26-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 20-14.
North tried an onside kick, but Center Grove recovered. The Trojans picked up one first down, but then the Bull Dog defense forced a punt. North took over at its own 16 with 2:09 remaining.
After an offsides on Center Grove, Flemmons hit Harris for 22 yards and Hunter Huser for seven yards to midfield. But after two plays netted no yards, Tyler Watson intercepted a Flemmons pass on fourth-and-3 to seal it.
“He’s definitely a big part of what we do, and we had a game plan intact that utilized his skills throwing the ball to Jaylen instead of Jaylen throwing the ball,” Perry said. “But we worked Jaylen as our backup quarterback, and had him ready for things like this. When he stopped being a quarterback and started being and athlete, he really started to play well and that was fun to watch.”
Flemmons completed 15 of 32 passes for the 272 yards. Harris, a cornerback, who saw extended action on offense because of Flemmons’ move to quarterback, caught nine passes for 162 yards.
“Coach always talks about, ‘Next man up,’ so whenever someone goes down, the next person has to be ready to go,” Flemmons said. “We gave them everything we had, especially after Trenton going down on the first drive. I thought we did as much as we could.”
Freshman Carson Steele carried 26 times for 125 yards and a touchdown to lead the Trojans, who ended North’s season for the sixth time in seven years.
But the Bull Dogs defense battled all night, holding Center Grove to one of its lowest point totals of the season.
“I’m so proud of the way our team battled,” Perry said. “That’s what our mantra is on our program — we’re going to battle, and ‘Next man up.’ When something doesn’t go well, we step up and scrap, and that’s what I’m really proud of about our program.