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Columbus East offensive lineman John Stephens, right, celebrates a touchdown in the endzone with quarterback Alex Cowan in the first quarter of Friday night's, Oct. 5, 2012, conference game against Jeffersonville at Stafford Field. The Republic file photos
THE Jeffersonville football team must have had one collective thought during its loss to Columbus East on Friday in a game that decided the Hoosier Hills Conference championship.
“Where’s the lightning when you need it?”
The Red Devils would have loved a lightning postponement, considering they looked like a group lost in the arctic without any coats or sled dogs.
But while they were force-fed high winds, cold temperatures and driving rain, no lightning was available. The game was going on.
After practicing in pristine conditions most of the year, Indiana high school football teams often have to handle some extreme shifts in the weather at the most important time of the season, when championships are being decided.
“That’s the beauty of the game of football,” said Columbus North coach Tim Bless, whose team beat Bloomington South on Friday in the same wet, frigid mess. “You play this game in 20 degrees or 100 degrees.
“We always say, ‘Today is a great day for football,’ no matter what the weather is like. We preach that and teach it.”
Still, it’s hard to know how the players are going to react when they first encounter conditions more suitable for ice fishing. A successful run in the tournament could mean that a team plays all the way to Thanksgiving.
“I really don’t know how you prepare for that stuff,” said Columbus East coach Bob Gaddis said of last Friday’s cold, wet weather. “It was miserable for a lot of people.”
It was less miserable for the Olympians, who didn’t lose a beat. That was not the case for the Red Devils, who couldn’t pull away from center without putting the ball on the ground.
East linebacker Logan Galarno said he could hear the Jeffersonville players complaining about the howling wind, cold temperatures and driving rain.
“They said, ‘We don’t know how you guys do it,’” Galarno said. “Our defense was swarming and running around.”
Galarno said it wasn’t very pleasant for the Olympians, either, but they were smart when it came to going about their business.
“You have to wear the right clothing and dress appropriately,” Galarno said. “You wear leggings so your legs don’t cramp. I don’t like wearing sleeves because they get wet and heavy and they slow you down.”
While dressing for the elements is a big part of playing well in tough conditions, much of it has to do with a player’s mental attitude.
“Personally, the cold doesn’t affect me so much,” said North lineman Thomas Shoaf. “I’m a cold weather kid. I wear shorts year-round.”
Shoaf said the Bloomington South players seemed to be having a tougher time.
“They were out there on the field complaining about the cold,” Shoaf said. “And their sideline was in one, big mob. They were all huddled together.
“I think you have a definite advantage if you embrace it.”
East quarterback Alex Cowan said it’s got to be business as usual. “We come out there with enthusiasm and intensity,” he said. “We could hear them saying that it’s freezing and that they wanted to go home.”
But embracing poor conditions can be tough.
“When you get hit, it hurts 100 times more, especially your hands,” said East tailback Markell Jones. “You try to tell yourself that it’s not cold, and you try to stay hyped up.”
Gaddis said the coaches talk to the players about bad conditions, but there really haven’t been any opportunities to practice in it.
“We’ve had one good rain practice,” Gaddis said. “What’s happened the other times is that it has thundered, and you can’t have the kids out in it. So we tell our kids, if we’re any good, we could be playing when it’s snowing.”
On Friday, Gaddis tried to follow regular preparations during pregame drills.
“We cut out 10 minutes, that was all,” Gaddis said. “I told our staff, we are going to go out in it and practice. We have to play in it. I wanted our players to get out there and handle the ball in the wet. We needed to see what the wind was doing.”
Bless did the same with his team.
“It was a unique combination and a really nasty night,” he said. “All three of the elements were so difficult. But I think we did a great job. Two of the biggest stats were that we had no turnovers and that we made both our extra points.
“And that’s why I believe in a balanced offense. You just don’t know what kind of weather you are going to get this time of year. We have had tournament runs where we played in short sleeves the whole way or we could play in 2 inches of snow.”
Galarno will put up with either if it means winning a title, but not even winning can reduce that it’s plain miserable to be in the cold. When Columbus East finished off Jeffersonville, it was straight to the locker room after the game with very little on-the-field celebration.
“It was fun for a while, especially because we were forcing turnovers.” Galarno said. “But toward the end of the game, it was time to get inside.”
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