To Columbus North middle linebacker Shaquille Ash, trying to beat rival East in Friday’s showdown involves more than dealing with a huge crowd and higher-than-normal emotions.
It has to do with a different style of football.
“You think of East as a high-flying team,” Ash said. “They like big plays, and we have to get ready for that. Our conference is more ground and pound.”
No one is more aware of that than Bull Dogs coach Tim Bless, who has to keep his players focused on X’s and O’s when the week is “kind of a circus environment.”
“The common fan knows that East is dynamic offensively,” Bless said. “They are going to push the pace, and they are going to take shots down the field. But then, every week they are going to establish the run as well, even if they do throw it all over the yard.”
But East is not just a big-play team on offense.
“They are a blitz-happy defense,” Bless said. “They have no qualms about bringing players from every angle.”
Since it is a different style than his team sees in Conference Indiana, Bless said he must have his players’ complete attention.
“It is a high-spirited week, and you have to get the kids ready for that atmosphere,” he said. “It’s about holding an adolescent’s attention. It’s about focus. There is a lot going on around the periphery. We have to do what we can.”
Bless knows his team has to show improvement off its Week One 27-7 loss to defending state champ Carmel.
“More often than not against Carmel, we stopped ourselves,” Bless said. “We missed assignments and had two turnovers. We need to have more balance.”
Bless was able to scout East in person because the two teams played on different days last weekend (North at Carmel on Friday and East against Bloomington North at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday).
“Walking away from there, their offensive line was the most impressive thing,” Bless said of the Olympians. “Yeah, their offensive line, without a doubt. They moved Bloomington North’s front seven.
“They also are bigger defensively, especially their front four.”
Dealing with that front four will be North offensive tackle Ethan Brown, who was asked what he expects from the Olympians. “I think spread and passing,” he said.
After missing last year’s game due to foot injuries, Brown said he is looking forward to Friday night.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “You can feel it. You know that any mistake you make, everyone will see.”
Although he tries to stay away from the “healthy trash talk” that goes around, Brown said, “They are our rivals, and we think we are better than them. But I see it more as a mutual respect. If we have a bad game, we know they will punch us in the face.”
North senior defensive tackle Solomon Knight said that playoff games definitely are more important than a neighborhood rivalry, but he also knows the importance of Friday’s game.
“The whole town is here behind you,” he said. “It’s a game that everyone looks forward to, and it’s a fun environment. It’s hectic on the field, and your adrenalin is pumping.
“And it’s for bragging rights for the year.”
Ash agreed that a playoff game is more important. “In a playoff game, it’s loser go home,” he said.
Even so, he knows that Friday’s game is one of the state’s marquee match-ups.
“This is special,” Ash said. “Everyone who is close to you will be there.”
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