Ten weeks ago, Columbus East and Whiteland kicked off the 2021 football season on a warm August evening.
The Warriors got the better of the Olympians on that night, winning 28-7. That was the first varsity game for many of the Olympians and the first game as East head coach for Eddie Vogel.
Friday night, East (4-5) will visit Whiteland (5-3) again, this time with a little more at stake. They’ll meet in a first-round Class 5A playoff game, with a berth in the sectional final on the line.
“That’s a tough opponent to start with because they do what they do, and they do it really well,” Vogel said. “Just from watching tape, it was the first game under the lights for a lot of our football team. They have pretty much a season under their belt. I think we’re a better football team now, but the proof will be Friday night.”
In the first meeting between the teams, the Olympians had the ball in the red zone multiple times, but turnovers and penalties led to them scoring only seven points.
“A lot of the things that have stopped our offense throughout the season have been self-inflicted,” Vogel said. “Penalties have put us behind the chains, and I think we’re better at throwing the football now that we were at the beginning of the year. So we’re looking forward to going up and playing them again and see where we stand.”
The Olympians started 0-3, but have won four of six since then.
Junior Ethan Duncan has completed 45 of 85 passes for 525 yards and three touchdowns and has carried 138 times for 634 yards and four scores. Senior Tryce Villarreal has 183 carries for 813 yards and 11 touchdowns, and senior Logan Christophel has 12 catches for 184 yards and one score.
“We’ve improved a lot,” Villarreal said. “We just figured out how to practice. It’s basically just having good practices and coming out and playing as a team.”
The Warriors run the fly sweep in a run-heavy offense, but four key backs who played in the season opener are either out for the season or out indefinitely and won’t play Friday. That includes senior quarterback Brant Kunz.
Junior Kevin Denham has completed 23 of 44 passes for 397 yards and six touchdowns in six games. Junior Peyton Emberton has 143 carries for 846 yards and seven scores. Senior Jacob Smith has 14 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
“Going against Whiteland and the offense that they run, it’s pretty tough to defend, so having a bonus week has been nice,” Vogel said. “They’ve faced a lot of different offenses. We’re much better technique-wise. We’re going to have to execute defensively and try to get some stops on them.”
Whiteland has a pair of standout defensive linemen in senior Max Sullivan and junior Tayton Schakel.
“We have to come out a lot faster,” Villarreal said. “Their best players are on defense up front, so our O-line needs to come out how they played two weeks ago vs. BNL. We need to come out and move the chains, and we should have a good night.”
East, which lost 32 seniors from last year’s team, needs a couple of wins to avoid its first losing season since 2002.
“Our margin for error this year is not very big,” Vogel said. “If we can stay on schedule and not get behind the chains in second- and third-and-long, we’re not a team that lives in that down-and-distance. Running the football is our bread and butter, and that’s what we’re going to do again. That’s the identity of our football team right now, so I think our offensive line is playing really well. Our backs I think are playing well. We’re going to have to move the ball and put points on the board.”