The way the Columbus East defense was disbursing pain during its 36-14 sectional championship victory Friday night at Columbus East High School, it appeared Franklin County might run out of players.
In the first quarter, Wildcats running back Layne Harnishfeger was carried off the field, unable to put any weight on his left leg.
Harnishfeger’s backup, Chase Halloran, had to be helped off late in the second quarter.
And quarterback Brett Campbell took so many ferocious hits, it was amazing he could see straight.
It was those hits on Campbell that set up two first-half interceptions which allowed the No. 1-ranked 4A Olympians (12-0) to coast to the championship and celebrate with the trophy afterward. East will travel to face 9-3 Evansville Reitz, winner over previously unbeaten Jasper, on either Friday or next Saturday (to be determined today) in the regional championship game.
A hit by East defensive back Tyler Campbell forced Wildcats quarterback Brett Campbell to toss up a ball for grabs early in the second quarter. East defensive back Sean Owens fielded the high pop-up and raced back down the field 73 yards for a touchdown on the interception return.
The other interception of Campbell came later in the second quarter when Dalton Bateman leveled Campell, whose floater was picked off by Christian Wichman.
Four plays later, East scored its only offensive touchdown of the first half when quarterback Alex Cowan hit J.T. Voelker on a perfect 18-yard post route for the touchdown.
Throw in a safety when Franklin County snapped the ball out of the end zone on a punt, and it was 16-0 Olympians at intermission.
East’s offense kicked it into gear in the third quarter, scoring 20 points, and the only things left to do were to run out the clock and celebrate.
“It’s a very happy moment,” said East coach Bob Gaddis, who has guided East teams to six sectional titles. “Franklin County knew it would play the underdog role and it was a tough, physical game. But our defense stepped up and kept us in it.”
Among the seniors celebrating the title was defensive lineman Cody Edwards, who harassed Campbell all night.
“We just had great leadership,” Edwards said after posing with the team trophy. “This means a lot to us. Not many players get to play for championships.”
Edwards said his unit knew it had to pick up the pace when the offense struggled early.
“Our defense was up to the challenge,” he said. “We just pinned our ears back and went after them.”
Markell Jones rushed for 115 yards on 16 carries and scored on an eight-yard touchdown run for East. Cowan rushed for 107 yards on nine carries and scored on a one-yard dive in the third quarter. Brian Wichman scored East’s other touchdown in the third quarter on an eight-yard run.
“I couldn’t be more happy,” Cowan said during his team’s celebration. “We struggled on offense early, but it wasn’t because we didn’t prepare well. They just made some plays. They practice, too.
“But our offensive line wears people down.”
Offensively, Cowan knows his team has to get better, but what else is new? “Every team has work to do,” he said. “You always can improve on everything.”
Jones said his teammates will keep plugging away. “We won’t get complacent,” he said. “We’re going to have an even better preparation this week.”
East senior offensive lineman Rob McKee said the players wouldn’t spend a lot of time staring at the sectional trophy. “The sectionals are over,” he said. “Now it is time for the regionals.”
McKee was asked if he could have imagined in August that his team would be 12-0 at this point.
“I don’t want to say that I expected it,” McKee said. “But I knew it was possible.”