All season long, Bob Gaddis prepared his Columbus East football team to play hard until the final horn.
In tonight’s regional battle at Evansville Reitz, the Olympians are likely to have a close, four-quarter game, which has been a rarity this season.
In rolling to a 12-0 record and the state’s No. 1 ranking in Class 4A, East has had only three games decided by less than three touchdowns.
“That’s not really a concern,” Gaddis said. “You need to prepare your team in practice to play four quarters. You just have to hope that your guys are ready to play 48 minutes.”
Two of the Olympians’ close games came the first two games of the season, when they downed Bloomington North and Columbus North by three points. The other was the final game of the regular season, when East won by four at Bedford North Lawrence.
By contrast, Reitz (9-3) has played six games decided by seven points or fewer. The Panthers have pulled out one-point wins over Evansville Central and Jasper the past two weeks, overcoming fourth-quarter deficits in both.
“They’re going to play really hard, and they play for four quarters,” Gaddis said. “They’re a team that doesn’t quit. They’re going to keep playing, so we’ve told our guys we have to keep playing for four quarters.”
The teams have played one common opponent. East beat Madison 54-8 in the regular season, and Reitz downed the Cubs 56-7 in the Sectional opener.
Both teams like to run the ball and have shown the ability to throw, as well. The Panthers’ Ke’Andre Vaughn has ran for 1,465 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Olympians have two 1,000-yard rushers in sophomore tailback Markell Jones (1,289 yards, 17 TDs) and junior quarterback Alex Cowan (1,063 yards, 18 TDs).
Reitz’ Drew Johnston has thrown for 1,610 yards and 18 touchdowns. Cowan has passed for 942 yards and 15 scores in about half as many attempts.
“Offensively, they’re a lot like us,” Cowan said. “They run a spread, and they have a tight end. They like to throw the ball some, and they like to run the ball.
“They play a 33 stack (defense), which is something we haven’t seen all year, so it’s something different for our line to block,” he said. “I think we have to stop the run, run the ball when we need to and want to and play great special teams, and I think we’ll be all right.”
Both teams feature fast, physical defenses.
“They’re quick,” Gaddis said. “They’re a good football team. They’re well-coached. They run a different defense than we do, but I think the thing that’s similar is that their guys run to the football. They do play some smaller guys just like we do.
“They have really good offensive speed,” he said. “We can’t let them have long plays running the football or throwing the football, and we have to make them earn every yard. We just have to hang in there and hope that we don’t allow a lot of big plays.”
The game will be a reunion of sorts for Gaddis and Reitz coach Tony Lewis. Lewis played for Gaddis at South Putnam and was later an assistant under him at Reitz.
“I think we’re going to have to get out early and make some plays early and cause some turnovers,” Lewis said. “Columbus East does a great job of running the football and chewing up clock. They have a great, fast, physical defense, so we’re going to have to find a way to move the ball against them and give our defense a rest.”
East enters tonight’s game on a roll. The Olympians breezed through their Sectional, beating No. 6 East Central, Connersville and Franklin County by an average of 28 points.
“We think that we’re playing our best football, and if you win in November, you have to be playing your best football,” Gaddis said. “We feel like we’ve gotten better, and our kids keep practicing hard.”