Bob Gaddis and his Columbus East football team don’t get a chance to play the underdog role very often, but this week, the Olympians did it to perfection.
Faced with a road game against 12-time state champion Cathedral, East had its best week of practice all season. The Olympians then went out and dismantled the Irish 42-13 to advance to the Class 5A state finals for the second consecutive year.
“No one really gave us a chance, but we believed in ourselves,” East quarterback Josh Major said. “We knew if we were just hanging around, the more confidence we got, we’d end up winning.”
The 5A No. 2 Olympians (13-1), who will play Kokomo at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium, took advantage of three Cathedral turnovers. The Irish also turned the ball over on downs twice, including once on a mishandled punt snap deep in their own territory.
East, meanwhile, played near mistake-free football.
“We told the kids going into the game that turnovers and penalties were going to be huge, and we took advantage of a lot of those turnovers,” Gaddis said. “We tried to be aggressive.”
The first Irish turnover came on their second play from scrimmage. The Olympians recovered a fumble at the Cathedral 12, and four plays later, Major went in from to 1 for an early 7-0 lead.
The Irish answered when Roman Purcell threw a long pass that Jonah Wichman got his hands on, but it fell into the arms of Daijon Collins, who took it in for a 50-yard score.
East had to punt, but then stopped Cathedral on downs at the Olympians 39. A 31-yard run by Jamon Hogan and an Irish personal foul set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Miller on fourth-and-inches.
“Coach always says you have to run the ball when you want to and need to,” Miller said. “Our O-line got a great push, and I just ran through the hole.”
Cathedral again answered with a 9-yard touchdown run by Purcell. But East blocked the extra point to preserve a 14-13 lead.
The Olympians were then forced to punt, but recovered a fumble on the return at the Irish 7. Three plays later, Miller went in from the 1 with 1:31 left in the first half.
East then caught another huge break when it recovered a fumble at the 26 with 42 seconds left in the half. Three plays later, Major hit Wichman for a 23-yard score with 4 seconds left in the half, and the Olympians went to the locker room with a 28-13 lead.
“It was huge,”Wichman said. “We were working on it in practice, and Josh just gave me the look. I knew it was coming to me and just made a play on it.”
East had to punt on its first second-half possession, but again, Cathedral fumbled, and the Olympians recovered at the Irish 49. On fourth-and-6 from the 23, Major hit Cody Horner in the end zone for a 35-13 lead.
After the Olympians stopped the Irish on downs at the East 22, they put together their longest drive of the night. They went 78 yards, with Hogan taking it the final 22 with 9:57 left in the game.
“We kept the intensity we needed coming in,” Hogan said. “We couldn’t just play one half. The offensive line and the whole offense just did an excellent job today.”
Hogan finished with 136 yards on 18 carries, while Miller added 57 yards on 16 carries. Major completed 4 of 8 passes for 57 yards.
Meanwhile, The East defense held Notre Dame recruit Markese Stepp to 64 yards on 15 carries. That included a 31-yard carry in the final two minutes of the game.
“Our D-line played awesome,” Wichman said. “Our linebackers played great, as well. We didn’t give up very many big plays. We played good team defense tonight.”
“Our defense played well all night long, holding one of the best offenses in the state to 13 points,” Major said. “They forced turnovers, and we were able to capitalize on it.”