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Small East defense, coming up big


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Columbus East's Zach Day (23), pursues Franklin County quarterback Brett Campbell, Nov. 2, 2012, in the sectional championship at Stafford Field.
Columbus East's Zach Day (23), pursues Franklin County quarterback Brett Campbell, Nov. 2, 2012, in the sectional championship at Stafford Field.

Columbus East defender Chase Banister tackles Seymour wide receiver Logan Richey in the first quarter Aug. 31, 2012, at Stafford Field in Columbus.
Columbus East defender Chase Banister tackles Seymour wide receiver Logan Richey in the first quarter Aug. 31, 2012, at Stafford Field in Columbus.


COLUMBUS, Ind. — Chase Banister called it gang tackling.

Logan Galarno attributed technique.

Christian Wichman said it is team speed and pursuit.

That's what three of Columbus East's young and undersized linebackers and defensive backs said the Olympians do to offset a size disadvantage on the defensive side of the ball. That defensive unit is a big reason why East was ranked No. 1 in Class 4A at the end of the regular season and is 12-0 going into Saturday's regional contest at Evansville Reitz.

"They do a great job of playing together," East coach Bob Gaddis said. "I think they trust each other. They've gotten a lot better at technique. We try to play fast and pursue the football, and we've had a lot of different guys make a lot of great plays for us."

While the Olympians' offensive and defensive lines are bigger than those at most other Class 4A schools, the linebackers and defensive backs are a little smaller. But what they lack in size, they make up for in speed.

"They've all done a great job in the offseason developing strength and speed," Gaddis said. "We don't really worry how big they are. We just worry about if they can run to the football and tackle."

"Since I've been here, we've never really had a lot of size," defensive coordinator Eddie Vogel said. "We've always played with smaller players. It's not that we wouldn't like bigger players, but really to be honest, with the defense that we play, we'd rather have guys that can run. A lot of times, we'll take speed over size. We just want guys that can get on the field and make plays, and we've been very blessed to have some good players here."

East starts only two seniors on defense — tackle Cody Edwards and safety Brian Wichman. They are joined by eight juniors and one sophomore — end Connor Roberts.

Junior middle linebacker John Busack leads the team with 66 tackles, while junior end Brock Patterson has four sacks and 13 tackles for losses, junior tackle Dalton Bateman has three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries, and Brian Wichman has four interceptions. Wichman's brother, junior outside linebacker Christian Wichman, has returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and junior cornerbacks Banister and Sean Owens each have one pick-six.

"We don't really have any superstars, but this is about as tight-knit of a group, and they all like each other and they all get along, and I think that has a lot to do with the chemistry that we have on defense and guys playing hard and playing together and playing as a team," Vogel said. "That's the big strong suit for these guys."

"We play as a team," junior safety Zach Day said. "We all like each other, so that helps."

As well as the defense has played this season, it has yet to record a shutout. But the Olympians have held seven of their 12 opponents to single digits.

"That's kind of how our defense is judged," Brian Wichman said. "We want to be the best defense we can be. We just all make sure we're on the same page, and we know what we're doing. We're working together to figure out what we've got going and just making plays."

"They've been really coachable," Vogel said. "There have always been adjustments and things that we need to work on. We watch tape after each week, and our goal has been to get better week after week after week, and these guys have done a good job of that."

East will look to continue that trend Saturday when it faces a potent Reitz offense.

"They have some pretty good and fast receivers, and we have to shut them down," said junior cornerback Kaleb Horn, who is filling in for Owens. "Our line and linebackers have to be able to shut down the run, so our secondary has to be able to shut down the pass."

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