It was hard to tell which made Tim Bless feel more relieved Friday night — his Columbus North team’s season-opening 28-13 win against Plainfield or the ice bath he received just a few minutes after the game’s completion.
Bless received an ice bucket challenge from senior offensive lineman Cam Miller after practice Thursday, so after the Bull Dogs downed the Quakers on a steamy 90-degree Friday night he was more than happy to be doused by Miller and senior center Ezra Followell.
“One-and-0 tastes good,” Bless said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
North’s defense was dominant for all but Plainfield’s first and last drives of the game, both of which resulted in touchdowns. The Quakers put up all 13 of their points and 128 of their 192 total yards on those two drives.
The Bull Dogs received a big break when Plainfield running back Jacob Maple, who burned North in last year’s 34-32 Plainfield victory, suffered an apparent ankle injury on the first play of the second quarter and did not return. The Quakers finished with 95 yards rushing on 33 carries.
“I was very proud of our defensive effort,” Bless said. “These guys are hungry to establish a great defensive team this year. We eliminated the run game from a team that prides itself on being able to run the football.”
After Plainfield took a 7-0 lead less than 2½ minutes into the game, that Bull Dog defense settled down. North tied the game with 1:03 left in the first quarter when Mitchell Kelley executed a perfect quarterback draw for a 42-yard touchdown.
“We came out a little bit slow,” Kelley said. “Emotions were high for the first game of the year. Then we picked it up and started playing our football and got our confidence back.”
A big play on special teams set up North’s go-ahead score. Brice McDaniel hit the Plainfield punter, and Sean Dasovich picked up a loose ball at the Quaker 5-yard-line. Tyler Wang, who had lost a fumble on the Bull Dogs’ first offensive series, scored on the next play.
“There were a lot of things that could have been better,” Wang said. “I fumbled early in the game. That was a huge upset, but the next play, the next down, you have to push through that kind of stuff. I just got back out there and did my best to prove myself.”
North increased the lead to 21-7 when Jonathan Byers went in from the 3 with 4:52 left in the first half. The Bull Dogs looked like they would put another score on the board before halftime, but Kelley’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Weston Moore on the final play of the half was called back because of a hold.
“It’s a veteran team, and I was proud of them for not getting rattled,” Bless said. “Plainfield made some plays and had a good scheme, but we stuck right in there defensively, got better as the half went on, and the offense got untracked.”
Following a scoreless third quarter, North put it away with 7:03 left in the game. A 40-yard pass from Kelley to Clay Roberts set up Wang’s second touchdown of the night, an 8-yard scamper. Following Andrew Ng’s fourth extra point of the night, the Bull Dogs led 28-7.
Wang, who was making his first varsity start in place of injured senior Josh Holt, finished with 118 yards on 24 carries.
“It’s always a bad thing when you see your captain and your leader go down, but ‘Next man up,’” Wang said. “I knew I had to show that I was a good back along with Josh.”
“(Wang) has a burst, and he’s hard to find,” Bless said. “He’s a load to bring down, and he’s a shifty, downhill kid. We were confident Tyler was going to have a big game, and he did.”
Kelley added 75 yards on 14 carries and completed 7-of-13 passes for 125 yards.
“Our power run game is definitely the staple of our offense, and then we through it enough to keep drives alive,” Kelley said. “Whenever we don’t set ourselves back with turnovers or penalties, our offense will be hard to stop.”