For the second consecutive thrilling week, East quarterback Alex Cowan started a game-winning drive, and tailback Markell Jones finished it.
Only this time, the stakes were as high as they come.
With a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 smothering North’s home football field, Jones burst up the middle on a 21-yard touchdown run with 46 seconds remaining to send the Olympians’ fans into a frenzy with the 23-20 victory. North had scored the go-ahead touchdown only 74 seconds earlier to take a 20-16 lead.
“Two minutes to go, I was like ‘I did it last week (in a 31-28 win over Bloomington North). I can do it again,’ “ Cowan said. “I just believed in my teammates. We just had to get a score at the end, and that’s what we did.”
After North quarterback Michael Vogel bulled his way nine yards up the middle for a touchdown, the Bull Dogs (0-2) led 20-16 with 2:00 remaining. A short kickoff left the Olympians (2-0) at their own 35, and Cowan and Jones went to work.
Cowan found Jason Kimmet for 22 yards on the first play, and Jones followed with an 11-yard run for another first down at the North 29. Cowan then hit JT Voekler for 8 yards, setting up Jones’ third touchdown of the night with 46 seconds left and his second game-winner in as many weeks.
“Blocking was great,” said Jones, who finished with 178 yards on 28 carries. “I just broke a couple tackles and got to the end zone. We knew if we just pulled together as a team, we would get it done and get it in the end zone.”
North’s Taylor Summa returned the kickoff past midfield, but the Bull Dogs were called for a block in the back and had to start from their own 18. Four incomplete passes later, East had snapped a two-game losing streak to North.
“There’s a lot of poise and a lot of character,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “We’re having a heck of a time coaching these guys this year because they just practice hard, they prepare hard, they play hard and they believe, and that’s what makes coaching fun. Our kids came right back and showed a lot of character, so I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The Olympians were penalized 12 times for 80 yards, but North’s 11 penalties for 95 yards were more costly. Perhaps none was as costly as the illegal substitution penalty the Bull Dogs had when East was punting on fourth-and-1 from its own 32 and North leading 14-10.
Another costly play for the Bull Dogs came in the closing seconds of the first half when they had the ball first-and-10 from the East 13 and Vogel ran four yards to the 9, but North couldn’t get the ball spiked to have a chance at a field goal before the half ran out.
“You play a team of Columbus East’s caliber, and you make that many mistakes, you’re not going to give yourself a chance to be successful,” North coach Tim Bless said.
Still, the Bull Dogs, who were led by Jesse Tompkins’ 27 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown, looked like they might pull it out when they drove 85 yards in 16 plays to take a 20-16 lead with 2:00 remaining. As it turned out, they left too much time on the clock.
“Ultimately that’s what happens, but if you try to get too cute down there, you don’t score,” Bless said. “We did try to slow it down a little bit, and maybe hindsight being 20-20, we should have taken more time off, but we were down at the time.”
It was just enough time for Cowan and Jones.
“I was just thinking ‘We have to score,’” Cowan said. “I was like ‘I’m not losing to North.’ It feels amazing. Everyone thought we were underdogs, and we just came out here and played our hearts out, and we won.”
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