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MADISON — Friday night was homecoming for Steven O’Neal, so it was only fitting he made perhaps the key play of Columbus East’s football game at Madison.
After giving up a touchdown to face its first deficit of the season, O’Neal, who moved to Columbus from Madison before his freshman season last year, returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to the 22.
Markell Jones then scored on the first play for his first of a career-high six touchdowns, and the Class 4A No. 1 Olympians went on to post a 41-7 Hoosier Hills Conference win.
“It was kind of nice to see all my friends, but I didn’t let that get to me,” O’Neal said. “I always have motivation for football.”
East (7-0, 5-0) got off to a slow start on both sides of the ball. The Olympians were penalized three times before running their second play and on fourth-and-10, were forced to punt.
The Cubs (2-5, 2-3) then marched 81 yards in 12 plays, with quarterback Kody Boles taking it in the final 20 around the left side.
That set up O’Neal’s return and Jones’ 22-yard burst that tied the game.
“On that first drive, we stopped ourselves,” Jones said. “We shot ourselves in the foot on that drive, but after that, after Steven’s kickoff return, we were able to pick it up and score a lot of points.”
Following a 15-yard punt that gave East the ball at the Madison 35, the Olympians needed only two plays to score, with Jones taking it in from the 20. Jones then scored three touchdowns in a span of 3 minutes, 35 seconds, late in the second quarter on runs of 15, 15 and 34 yards, and East led 34-7 at halftime.
“I didn’t think our focus was very good, and we didn’t come out with a lot of intensity,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “Madison came out and kind of took it to us early. I think after we got a little bit of a wake-up call after they got after us; I thought our kids played well after that. It was good for our guys to understand that you have to be ready to play every night.”
Any thoughts of a Cubs comeback were erased in the opening minute of the third quarter. Quarterback Alex Cowan ran for 15 and 13 yards on the first two plays, and Jones followed with a 52-yard burst for his sixth score of the night.
Jones finished with 189 yards on 14 carries, and Cowan added 121 yards on seven carries for the Olympians, who amassed 378 yards on the ground. Neither returned after that first second-half series.
“We came out a little bit slow,” Cowan said. “I don’t know why. We just did. But the defense did a great job getting us the ball back, and the line did a good job and sprung us loose.”
“This is the first time we’ve seen a 4-4 (defense) all year, but we blocked it perfectly,” Jones said. “We have a big ol’ line, and we dominated up front.”
Madison’s Mitchell Sandlin ran for 106 yards on 27 carries.
“I thought our defense cranked it up after that (opening touchdown),” Gaddis said. “Their tailback is a really good player, and I thought our defense controlled him pretty well all night.”
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