The way a football team responds to adversity can define a season.
Usually, though, it’s not a test that is given in a team’s opening game.
Columbus North has been slapped with a severe challenge after senior starting tailback Josh Holt, the Bull Dogs’ workhorse, sprained his knee in a scrimmage last Saturday. Plainfield hosts the Bull Dogs at 7 p.m. tonight.
Holt is expected to be out one to two games, and that means North will turn to junior tailback Tyler Wang, who had just 13 carries a year ago.
“Josh Holt is our bell cow,” said North coach Tim Bless. “His leadership will be missed every bit as much as his football ability.”
Columbus East will have a different kind of challenge when it hosts Bloomington North at 7 tonight. The Olympians will be attempting to build on a 15-game winning streak after losing all-state quarterback Alex Cowan, all-state offensive lineman Evan Kuhn and a host of other key starters to graduation.
“Our juniors were not in a leadership position last season because we had so many quality seniors,” said East coach Bob Gaddis. “They they saw those guys lead, and hopefully they learned.
“So this will be a great opener for us. We will get a gauge on what kind of team we have.”
Bloomington North, which lost 49-21 to East a year ago, won a sectional title in 2013.
“Obviously when you are facing one of the best programs in the state, you talk about the fact that these guys know how to win,” said Bloomington North coach Scott Bless. “Even their first-year starters this season had a 17-week practice season a year ago, and they practiced every day against a state championship team. These aren’t your usual first-year starters. They’ve haven’t missed a beat.”
If East hasn’t missed a beat, then Bloomington North could be in trouble. East tailback Markell Jones had five touchdowns and 260 yards rushing against the Cougars last season, scoring three times in the first quarter.
Scott Bless, the brother of Columbus North coach Tim Bless, will be trying to figure out a way to stop Jones. His best chance might be by keeping his offense on the field.
In that respect, Cougars quarterback Jack Smith will need to have a monster game. Smith threw for a school-record 2,516 yards last season and 30 touchdown passes.
“Jack is a little bigger and a little stronger,” said Bloomington North coach Scott Bless. “He already could throw it pretty good last season. He matured well, and he hit a point in the fourth game of the season where his touchdown to interception ration flip-flopped. He had 11 interceptions last season, and eight came in the first three games.”
Drew Ludwig, a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder who just committed to Air Force, is one of Smith’s top targets.
While East will have to deal with Smith and Ludwig, Columbus North will be trying to stop tailback Jacob Maple, who had 116 yards rushing and 77 yards receiving against the Bull Dogs last season.
“Their tailback (Maple) is a returning starter who gained 116 yards against us last season, so he has gained our respect,” Tim Bless said. “Offensively, Plainfield is a team that is a physical, downhill football team that disguises things with multiple shifts and motions. Then they will hit you with some shots over the top.”
Plainfield coach Brian Woodard said his team, on paper, isn’t as strong this season.
“We lost quite a few seniors,” he said. “But we have Jacob Maple, and he was the difference maker in a lot of ways.”
Maple rushed for 1,428 yards in 2013 and scored 19 touchdowns.
Woodard expects Columbus North to be much improved.
“They have a lot of seniors, and anytime you have those seniors, they are more invested in your program,” Woodard said. “They care more. I expect North to be the same as usual, very well coached and physical. I think Coach (Tim) Bless and I have very similar philosophies.”
Woodard said the mobility of Columbus North quarterback Mitchell Kelley and the size of 6-foot-2 wide receiver Weston Moore concern him.