After the first week of high school football, one thing seems very probable.
The big game — Columbus East at Columbus North at 7 p.m. Friday — once again will be a good game.
North, with its 28-13 victory at Plainfield, served notice that it has made some forward strides since its 3-7 clunker in 2013. We often hear about all the hard work that players do in the off-season, but in North’s case, it appears that news is true.
Perhaps the biggest indicator that North is back as a contender was the 95 yards the Bull Dogs allowed rushing on Friday.
That’s even bigger when you consider that North will face Markell Jones, arguably the state’s top running back, Friday.
Jones rushed for 296 yards against Bloomington North in a 42-19 victory by the Olympians and, to be honest, he didn’t have many gaping holes. He didn’t need them, though. It looked like elementary school kids trying to tackle their dad in the yard.
You can bet that East’s rebuilt offensive line needs some more time to come together, so North might be fortunate it will be trying to stop Jones in the second week on the schedule. That task might be near impossible in the second half of the season.
Here are some developing keys to the East-North game.
Get senior wide receiver Weston Moore the ball. Moore is one of the Bull Dogs’ top offensive threats, but he had just one catch against Plainfield for 19 yards. That might have fit into the game plan against the Quakers, but it won’t cut it against the Olympians.
Get senior tailback Josh Holt back in the lineup. North did a nice job without Holt, who had a sprained knee, against Plainfield, but Columbus East is a different defensive animal. East allowed
48 rushing yards against Bloomington North. Holt can gain 100 yards rushing all by himself against anyone.
Make Jones earn every yard. North’s worst problem last season was allowing big plays. Against Plainfield, the Bull Dogs allowed only three plays over 20 yards, and all three were passes. If the Bull Dogs can force the Olympians to grind out first downs, it will shorten the game.
Play a perfect game in terms of turnovers and penalties. To pull an upset, and North will be the underdog, the Bull Dogs must win the turnover battle and not hurt themselves with penalties that put them in long yardage situations. East’s defensive line simply is too strong to let it come full speed ahead at the quarterback.
Don’t let North’s big wide receivers, Moore and Clay Roberts, get behind the defense. East allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass to Bloomington North and had an 84-yard touchdown pass by the Cougars called back due to a motion penalty. That’s got to be a concern.
Keep contain on quarterback Mitchell Kelley and force him to the middle. Kelley is the kind of player who can kill a defense if the defensive ends overrun him and allow him to get to the outside. East just faced Bloomington North’s Jack Smith who did just that on a few occasions and made East pay. Kelley doesn’t have Smith’s arm, but he can take off on some big runs.
Be smart with throws. One sure way to fuel an upset bid is by throwing interceptions. East quarterback K.J. McCarter is finding his way as he begins his first season as a starter, and he needs to make good decisions. He got fortunate against Bloomington North with a couple of balls that should have been picked off. He shouldn’t tempt fate a second consecutive week.
Limit holding penalties. Few teams in the state can stop East from moving the chains if the Olympians don’t hurt themselves.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 379-5632.