The way Bob Gaddis saw it, the longer his Columbus East football team stayed in the game with powerhouse Cathedral on Friday night, the better chance the Olympians would have at pulling an upset.
Class 4A No. 1 East hung around for about a half, but the 4A No. 7 Irish used touchdowns in the final minute of the first half and the first two minutes of the second half to pull away for what would become a 49-14 semi-state victory.
The win sends two-time defending champion Cathedral into the Nov. 24 state finals, where it will play Mishawaka.
“I think anytime you’re playing a team of their caliber, a team that’s won that many state championships, you have to be able to play on some emotion,” Gaddis said. “You have to be able to keep it going, and the way you can keep it going is to stay in the football game. When they came back and made plays after that, it’s really tough to bring kids back up from that.”
The Olympians (13-1) were flying high early. After holding Cathedral (9-5) to a three-and-out on its first possession, East took over at its own 21.
After quarterback Alex Cowan’s helmet came off, forcing him out for a play, the Olympians faced a third-and-10 at the 21. Brian Wichman entered and out of the Wildcat formation, scampered 79 yards for a touchdown.
“We were playing on a lot of emotion there early, and he came in and made a great play,” Gaddis said.
“It was just a busted play,” Wichman said. “Something opened up. Our guys just kept blocking, and we just made a play.”
The Irish drove to the Olympians’ 26 before turning the ball over on downs. But on the first play, Markell Jones fumbled, and Cathedral’s Cooper Riddle returned it 27 yards to tie the game at 7.
East drove to the Irish 14 before settling for a 31-yard Paul Baker field-goal attempt, which sailed just wide to the left. Two plays later — on the first play of the second quarter — Cathedral’s Connor Rice hit Terry McLaurin for a 76-yard touchdown to give the Irish the lead for good.
“I think getting that fumble return for a touchdown kind of stemmed the momentum and gave our kids a little bit of enthusiasm,” Cathedral coach Rick Streiff said. “It ended up being a big play in the game, and then obviously McLaurin’s long touchdown catch was huge, too.”
The Olympians looked like they might go to halftime down only 14-7. But Rice hit tight end Zach Saum on a screen pass that went for 41 yards, then scrambled around and found Saum in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown with 33 seconds left in the first half, and the Irish led 21-7 at the break.
Cathedral took the second-half kickoff and drove 61 yards in four plays, with Gino Gillum taking it the final five yards. Gillum and McLaurin added third-quarter touchdowns, and backup running back John Hummel scored early in the fourth quarter to make it 49-7.
“We could have been up 10-0, and we weren’t,” Gaddis said. “Really, even with all the things that went bad after we got off to a good start, had we been able to go in at halftime 14-7, it might have been a different game. But to their credit, they came out and scored, and I think the first touchdown of the second half really took the wind out of our sails.”
East got on the board again with 3:53 left in the game when Cowan scored on a 5-yard keeper.
“I thought our kids battled,” Gaddis said. “We went toe-to-toe with them early, and to their credit, they made plays. They’re an awfully good football team. You can’t make mistakes. We haven’t made mistakes all year, but tonight, we made a couple mistakes that hurt us.”
“We just had a few miscues,” Wichman said. “We did all we could. We played hard until the end.”
Rice finished 11 of 14 for 293 yards passing for the Irish. McLaurin caught three passes for 117 yards.
Jones ran for 96 yards on 17 carries for the Olympians. Cowan carried 25 times for 55 yards and completed 5 of 13 passes for 39 yards.
The loss ends a season in which East repeated as Hoosier Hills Conference, sectional and regional champions.
“I’m very happy with what we accomplished,” Gaddis said. “Like I told the boys after the game, there were a lot of people that I don’t think predicted this out of this group. For the guys that were on the field, they understand, they put in the work and the effort and worked really hard at it, and that’s why we got there.”
“They’re a great football team, and they have some young kids and they’re going to be super special here in the next couple years,” Streiff said.