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WITH no team speed, little star power and three losses to start the season, Columbus North was headed toward a rocky 2013 season.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Conference Indiana basement, though. The Bull Dogs turned it around.
After two conference victories, a suddenly rejuvenated North squad is tied for second at 2-1 (2-3 overall) with a chance to jump even higher Friday when it travels to Terre Haute North.
Indeed, the Bull Dogs have a big game.
“I think our kids are carrying themselves with more confidence,” North coach Tim Bless said Monday evening following practice. “Our freshmen are 5-0, our junior varsity is 4-1 and the varsity is coming together. There is a lot of good feelings around here.”
Bless talked to his team about their opportunity to get into the race for a Conference Indiana title. Something that seemed far-fetched two weeks ago now appears to be obtainable.
Southport, which leads Conference Indiana at 3-0 and has a 5-0 overall mark, only beat last-place Bloomington South 35-28 on Friday and nipped Terre Haute North 11-10 in double overtime the previous week. The conference has no dominant team.
“It’s exciting,” Bless said. “It’s awesome that we are right there.”
A North defense that couldn’t stop anyone the first couple of games now has become the key to the two-game winning streak. Bless said he didn’t make a bunch of changes.
“We’re just a month more mature,” he said. “These past two games we have played some great defense. The players and the coaches worked their tails off.
“Before we were playing as 11 individuals. Everybody now is just playing a little bit better.”
Cornerback Justin Huser returned from an early season concussion and moved to safety, and that seems to have helped the defensive backfield, along with defensive back Collin Ebel getting healthy after a preseason injury. With the steady play of Clay Johnson at corner and senior Logan Fox producing some big plays, that unit has turned the corner.
Bless said that middle linebacker Luke Teague still is the leader of the defense, and with Josh Holt moving from safety to outside linebacker, that unit is solid as well.
“And our defensive front has been our stable group,” Bless said.
On offense, senior quarterback Michael Vogel has been a consistent force since the season began.
“Michael’s poise has been everything we could ask of him,” Bless said.
Although North’s passing game hasn’t taken off, Bless notes that his team doesn’t have the kind of athletes at wide receiver who can separate from defensive backs.
“Michael is putting the ball where it belongs more often than not,” Bless said. “Our throwing game is not where we want it to be, but you can’t put it on him.”
In the two wins, Holt moved from defense-only to a two-way player, and as a tailback has gained 230 yards and scored six touchdowns.
“We’re doing some very good things with the physicality of our run game,” Bless said. “Last Friday was a wet one, so we really didn’t even try to do much with our passing game. We feel good about the evolution of our offense. We’re definitely better right now than at any other point this season.”
Bless noted that Cameron Miller, a 285-pound junior, has moved into the starting lineup at guard and has been solid. Ezra Followell moved to center and Bless said he has been nails all season.
North will have to overcome a pair of injuries on Friday as linebacker Sean Dasovich (shoulder) and tight end Jonathon Weaver (ankle) are doubtful.
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