One year ago, Columbus East came up just a few points short of winning its second state football title in four years.
The 16-13 loss to Westfield in the Class 5A title game served as motivation for the returning Olympians to make it back — and win — the championship this season.
“Our kids were very disappointed in that football game last year because anytime you get here, and you play a close game and you have some opportunities, it’s going to be tough on kids,” East coach Gaddis said.
“But kids are pretty resilient. I think coaches sometimes are slower to be resilient than kids even, but our offseason was good. Those guys that were on that team last year as juniors became great leaders in the offseason, and they were determined to do everything they could to get back.”
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Tonight, the Class 5A No. 2 Olympians (13-1) will face Kokomo (9-4) for the state title at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Several of the returning players from last season learned important lessons about playing on the state’s biggest stage.
Most of it dealt with handling the emotion of a big game.
“I think we learned last year that everybody has jitters before the game, and we just have to figure out how to get rid of them before we step on the field so we can play our best,” senior Cole McCarter said.
McCarter is playing a different position this year.
Last year, he was a starting defensive tackle, and now, he is the starting center.
Like McCarter, senior running back Jamon Hogan said dealing with nerves is an issue.
“Everybody is a little bit nervous,” Hogan said. “But what we learned is, we just have to be ready when it’s kickoff and stay focused.”
East played in a big-game atmosphere last week. The Olympians rolled to a 42-13 upset of 12-time state champion Cathedral.
That sent East to state for the third time in five years.
“It’s just another game,” senior linebacker Zack O’Connor said.
“We just have to be ready to play (today).”
The Olympians had a chance to get acclimated to an indoor setting when they practiced Tuesday at Indiana University and Wednesday at Lucas Oil.
They hope that, along with last year’s experience, will help them avoid the same fate as in 2016.
“The entire experience last year was just something new for us and a great experience for the whole team,” Major said.
“But what we talked about earlier was, we thought last year, we were just happy to be there. This year, we expected to be there. We’re going in there, and we’re going to try to finish the job this time.”