East, North face vastly different offenses in season openers

Columbus East will be facing a team that almost exclusively runs the football, and Columbus North will see one of the state’s top passing attacks when the high school football season begins across the state tonight.

The opening tests will be stern for both teams. The Class 5A No. 10 Olympians travel to 5A No. 5 Whiteland for a 7 p.m. kickoff, and the Bull Dogs will visit 3A No. 4 Gibson Southern for a 7:30 p.m. kick.

East will feature a new head coach on the sidelines for the first time in two decades. Eddie Vogel, an assistant the past 19 years, takes over for retired Hall-of-Famer Bob Gaddis.

“I think we’ve had a pretty good week of practice,” Vogel said. “We’re still pretty young, so we’re learning how to be varsity players, and our focus if on how to prepare for a different opponent every week.”

This week, the Olympians have been preparing to try to slow down Whiteland’s “fly sweep” offense. Warriors coach Darrin Fisher has been running the fly sweep for years, and Whiteland rushed for more than 360 yards a game last season.

The Warriors lost three of their top four rushers from last season, but return six players who ran for at least 99 yards, led by junior Jonathan Crowley, who picked up 439 yards and five touchdowns. Senior quarterback Brant Kunz, who enters his third year as the starter, completed only 23 passes last season, but 11 went for scores.

“Their offense is pretty unique,” Vogel said. “It’s a tough matchup for us every year. They do a good job of mixing runs up. They do it all up though their feeder system, so their guys have done it for a long time. It’s tough to simulate in practice. Guys are going to have to understand that things are going to happen three times faster than it does against our scout team. Our guys have done a pretty good job of that this week, but they’re going to have to be focused because it’s so unique.”

Whiteland is solid on both lines, led by 6-foot-6 tight end and defensive lineman Max Sullivan, a Ball State recruit.

“Defensively, what jumps out on tape from their scrimmage, they’re very fundamentally sound, and they fly around to the football,” Vogel said. “Their defense is physical. We’ve tried to convey to our guys how good Whiteland is and what we’re going to have to do to be successful (tonight).”

Meanwhile, North coach Tim Bless expects to see a much more polished Gibson Southern team than the one the Bull Dogs routed 48-6 in last year’s season opener.

“They got better as the season went on,” Bless said. “They have scholarship athletes in multiple spots along the offensive line and the offensive perimeter, most notably at quarterback, and it’s their home opener.”

Purdue recruit Brady Allen threw for 2,556 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. Senior Rory Heltsley, who led the Titans with 52 catches for 703 yards and 11 scores, has Division I offers.

North, which scored nine touchdowns while shutting out Greenwood in last week’s scrimmage, hopes to be able to carry that effort into tonight.

“We’re encouraged by the scrimmage performance, but also knowing that our opponent was subbing personnel in and out of the game the whole time, there were a lot of things that we saw on video after the fact where, ‘We got away with this, but it really wasn’t very good execution,’” Bless said. “These are areas that we need to shore up. When it’s Friday night football and everybody’s playing their best players, you have to execute. There were some pieces where we have to improve, but there was plenty of good.”

To break up the approximate three-hour trip to Gibson Southern, which is in Fort Branch just north of Evansville, the Bull Dogs will make a stop this afternoon at North Daviess High School, which is a little more than halfway.

“We have a long busride, so we have a lot of challenges in front of us,” Bless said. “We have to be ready when the ball is on the ground to play our best football.”