BEDFORD — Less than four minutes remained Friday night, and Columbus East’s undefeated regular season, 41-game Hoosier Hills Conference winning streak and No. 1 Class 4A ranking were in jeopardy.
The Olympians, who had trouble stopping Bedford North Lawrence all night, were clinging to a three-point lead and faced a fourth-and-8 at the Stars’ 14. But instead of kicking a field goal, which would have allowed BNL to win with a touchdown and extra point, East coach Bob Gaddis went for it.
Alex Cowan rolled to his right and lofted a pass to backup tailback Christian Wichman at the 3-yard line.
Wichman caught the ball, turned and dove into the end zone, and the Olympians would hold on for a 35-31 victory.
“Coach said it would be a hard place to play down here,” said Cowan, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for a team-high 132 yards and two scores. “They’re a good football team. We just had to answer the bell.”
The Stars (4-5, 4-3), who had failed on an onside kick attempt before East’s final touchdown that made it 35-25 with 3:31 remaining, marched for another touchdown with 1:03 left to cut the lead to four. But the Olympians blocked the extra point, and J.T. Voelker recovered the onside kick to preserve the victory.
East (9-0, 7-0) played without starting safety Brian Wichman, who sustained a rib injury in last week’s win over Jeffersonville and took another shot to the ribs in practice Thursday. Middle
linebacker John Busack suffered an injured shoulder on the first series Friday and did not return.
“We had some other kids step up,” Gaddis said. “I thought our kids battled through a lot of adversity and finished it off with a win.”
The Olympians twice had to battle back from seven-point deficits in the first half. Cowan hit Cody Hempstead for a 33-yard touchdown and Markell Jones went over from the 1 for the second comeback. East took a 21-14 lead after Cowan scored on a 5-yard run midway through the second quarter, but a 26-yard field goal by BNL’s Arie Evans on the final play of the first half cut it to 21-17.
Cowan ran 15 yards for a score late in the third quarter, but BNL answered with a touchdown and 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-25 with 6:28 left in the game. After the failed onside kick, East got the big play on fourth-down to keep the Stars at bay.
Jones finished with 130 yards on 20 carries. Cowan completed 5-of-7 passes for 74 yards.
“I thought our line did really well up front, and I thought our backs and receivers got open and made plays,” Cowan said.
BNL outgained the Olympians 388-308.
“We knew it would be tough,” Gaddis said. “We knew they’d be a good football team, and I think our kids found that out, that you have to bring it every night. They’re a good offense, and they had a good plan against us.”
With a trip to fourth-ranked East Central first on the postseason docket, East was glad to play a close game for the first time since the second week of the season.
“It’s great for us because East Central is a good football team,” Gaddis said. “It’s going to take a four-quarter effort, so I was happy that we had to come down here and battle for four quarters.”
The 7-0 conference finish was the sixth in a row for the Olympians, whose last HHC loss was a 33-30 defeat at BNL in 2006.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be in this situation right now, and to come out here and prove to everyone that we’re a lot better football team than they expect us to be feels great,” Cowan said.