It was 48 minutes of the bench press. Four quarters of the toughest tug of war fought in a laundry room with the humidity seemingly escalating as the minutes passed.
In a game referred to as a classic, it really was a classic. It was classic heart from two teams comprised of teenagers.
Columbus North football coach Tim Bless stood on the nice, clean Field Turf at his home stadium on Friday night, unable to celebrate his team’s magnificent rally against East in a game that was decided on part-muscle and part-intestinal fortitude.
Bless and the Bull Dogs were one-upped by a team that was more than willing to play smash-mouth football with a team that is known for perfecting it.
East’s 23-20 victory in the annual rivalry was accomplished behind an offensive line that didn’t flinch after North took the lead 20-16 with two minutes remaining on a nine-yard “sneak” by quarterback Michael Vogel.
The Olympians’ wonderful sophomore tailback, Markell Jones, didn’t bat an eye when the North faithful were getting ready to transfer the party to other places all around town.
No, Jones took that role of carrying his team on his back seriously. Or make that carrying the other team on his back.
From the 21-yard line, with 46 seconds left, Jones crossed over the goal line and into this big game’s lore. He did it with a direction that Bless would have drawn up on his scoreboard, straight up the middle.
In the future, as the story is retold, Jones will have carried five Bull Dogs into the end zone, while they dragged their feet the whole way.
In reality, he ran over one prospective tackler, dodged two others and carried a couple more five of the last 10 yards. As he did a week ago, when he ran 40 yards for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, Jones would not be denied.
Sadly, a holding call on the ensuing kickoff robbed North of field position around midfield, and the chance for even more heroics in a game full of them. North was buried back at its 18, and with only 38 seconds left that was it.
On the other sideline, East coach Bob Gaddis was finally able to throw down his sweat towel, because he must have known that his tiring defense would have been hard-pressed to withstand another charge from Vogel, Bull Dogs’ tailback Jesse Tompkins and a big, blue offensive line that was taking over.
Tompkins finished with 27 carries for 140 yards, but his game goes way beyond numbers.
It’s one of those stories that you don’t hear often about high school kids, because the games are made up of numbers on jerseys and not so such about the kids in them. There was a whole lot of kid in No. 22 Blue on Friday night.
It was only a week ago that Tompkins had a broomstick running from the top of his head down through his torso. A pinched nerve in his neck left him unable to play against Carmel in the season-opener.
Visibly hurt, Tompkins said he would be back, maybe this week. It didn’t seem probable. He would have had trouble moving his head side-to-side to eat an ear of corn.
Yet after a grueling first half where East put the hurt on Tompkins, making him pay for his 52 yards in the first 24 minutes, Tompkins came out with even more fire in the second half. Certainly, Vogel would have gotten a well-deserved pat on the back if the Bull Dogs had won, but Tompkins turned the tide with his relentless pounding.
In a game we so often view as all-or-nothing, Tompkins won’t have much to show for his effort. Bless and his coaching staff will remember all the penalties and mental mistakes that robbed them of a possible victory. As Bless says, if you lose this big game, you get to play the next week.
Unfortunately for North, it will take next week’s game, and the next, and the next, to get the taste of this one out of its mouth. Indeed, it should help the Bull Dogs in the playoffs if they get that far.
Across town, Gaddis and company have a truly special run going and we can only hope the magic continues. Jones is as dynamic as they come. And that offensive line, well, Bless simply says they are terrific.
Forty-eight minutes of courage, and one winner.
Why can’t it be two?