Meeting with both teams’ football captains 30 minutes before East’s 42-14 victory Friday at Columbus North High School, Olympians tailback Markell Jones looked like a regular kid.
He was laughing, hugging anyone in either an orange or blue uniform and simply loving life.
Along the sideline at the same time, the visiting East student body was bouncing up and down like it was connected to a huge pogo stick. Jones looked up at the fun. I’m sure he was wondering how he could be part of it.
Alas, he had work to do.
The fun-loving senior turned into “The Beast” once again.
I’m not going to say that Jones is quite Superman, but if there is someone bigger and badder playing football in this part of Indiana, I have yet to see him.
Make no mistake about it, the 44th edition of the North-East rivalry game was a showcase for No. 28. All those East T-shirts that read “Beat North” should have had Jones’ photo emblazoned across them.
If that annoys anyone who thinks that Jones gets too much credit, you must not be paying attention. First, he never points at himself or says “Look at me.” As a friend, he really is just one of the guys.
His teammates love him, and I would bet are more than happy to be getting a ride on the Jones’ locomotive. Players like Jones don’t come along that often, folks, so get to a game and take a look.
On Friday, it wasn’t just about the numbers: 304 yards rushing, a touchdown pass thrown, a sack on his one defensive play.
That’s all nice, but it was more about sheer will. Those who weren’t at the game and see the score this morning will think that East was the infinitely superior team.
It’s just not true.
Take Jones out of the equation, and you likely would have had a down-to-the-wire slugfest. Can one player make that big a difference? Yes.
If you doubt that, ask the 7,000-plus fans who attended what they thought was the difference in Friday’s game. Of those, 6,979 would say Jones was the difference. The other 21 are parents of East starters.
North was printing blue shirts after the game that said, “So long, Markell, we wish you well at Purdue.”
This is a fine Columbus East football team worthy of the its No. 1 Class 4A ranking in the state. The Olympians have plenty of athletes who had big moments in their biggest regular season game.
Defensive end David Turner continues to be a wrecking ball from off the edge and also had a blocked field goal to go with the havoc he caused.
Linebacker Sam Dwenger is literally all over the field making tackles for East. Defensive tackle Hunter Wetherald drove his blocker 4 yards into the backfield where he destroyed North tailback Tyler Wang, who was just being handed the ball. Big-time players. Big plays.
The offensive line, led by Joey Bastian and Devorus Lewis, can knock people off the ball and running back/slot Steven O’Neal is a shifty threat who can hurt opponents in multiple ways.
Hurrah for all those players and more.
That being said, North was leading 7-0 in the first quarter and had stopped East’s offense on its first two possessions when Olympians coach Bob Gaddis decided to turn the beast loose.
Starting from East’s 20-yard line, Jones ripped off an 8-yard gain, then a 6-yard gain, then an 11-yard gain, followed by a fiver. The North student body could have come out of the stands, and it wouldn’t have mattered.
From North’s 34 on third-and-six, it was evident Jones was going to get the ball. The public address announcer could have made the call before the play. All the Olympians could have walked to the line of scrimmage and pointed to the spot where he was going.
Markell is going here. Right here!
Thirty-six yards later, Jones was flipping the ball to the official in the end zone. Now I did notice the official already was standing in the end zone when Jones got there, so obviously he is a smart guy.
On North’s next offensive series, with the game tied 7-7, Jones was inserted at linebacker and third-and-nine. He came flying around the edge, burying a helpless North quarterback Mitchell Kelley.
A bad snap on the punt gave East the ball at North’s 31. Next play, zing. It seemed like Jones and that official were playing catch in the end zone.
On East’s next possession, Jones threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to O’Neal. On East’s next possession, he scored on a 21-yard run. It was 28-7 in the second quarter, and it was over.
Columbus North should not judge itself on its one encounter with ‘The Beast.’ These Bull Dogs are headed for better days, and a run at a Conference Indiana title. You will see.
But in these parts, there only is one Beast. And East has him.
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.