By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Like a star in a galaxy far, far away, the light twinkles. It’s been a long time ago since Bedford North Lawrence could pinpoint the source, and there are plenty of wars ahead, but at least it’s been brought into focus with the help of a long-lens telescope.
The Stars are aligning for a possible blast to a Hoosier Hills Conference championship. This is Episode 3, of a six-act series, and there’s plenty of plot twists, drama and thrills ahead. For the moment, after some suspense and danger, BNL sits atop the league standings (with Columbus East). The view is outstanding, an IMAX sensation.
BNL, now 2-0 in the league, will seek to maintain its lofty status, celebrating Homecoming while welcoming Seymour to BNL Stadium for the first challenge to the leadership. The Stars haven’t won the conference since 2006, one of the reasons why seeing that ending requires a Hubble lens. The other reason is all of the variables and potential threats in future weeks. Sufficient for this week is the evil thereof.
The Stars (2-2 overall) got here with two amazing performances. The first was the second-half comeback from a three-score deficit at Jeffersonville, the second was the explosion by running back Cal Gates (270 rushing yards, currently believed to be the school’s single-game record while more research is conducted in the ancient text) during last week’s 45-21 thumping of New Albany. Two league road victories are quite the launching pad for a title.
“We got the momentum rolling,” BNL coach Derrick Barker said. “Last week we played our best game in all three phases. Hopefully we can do that again. We are where we want to be. But we certainly can’t look ahead to anything. Seymour has a chance to be one of the better teams, if not the best, we’ve played this year. We’ll have our hands full.“
Indeed, the Owls (2-2, 2-1 in the league) are dangerous, especially if allowed to get the last shot. Both wins have been last-play, breathless conclusions at home, a 31-28 win over Jeffersonville and a 22-15 conquest of Floyd Central. “We’re getting pretty good at that,” Seymour coach Tyson Moore joked. “You just hold your breath. You need a little luck on your side, we got a little lucky. The most important thing is we got the win.”
Home turf has not been kind to BNL. The Stars have lost three straight overall and have gone a dismal 4-12 there over the last three-plus seasons. BNL will play three of its final four HHC contests at home, which would be a great omen if recent history was favorable.
Here is the best trend: BNL has gone old-school during its recent surge of success, running the ball with authority. That concept fueled the rally at Jeff, that approach was unstoppable at New Albany. An offensive line that struggled to pass protect for 2 1/2 weeks has been a force with the ground game, and Gates amplified that with his historic eruption.
“We found we can have more success running the ball,” Barker said. “Cal is a great athlete, you see it in other sports. He’s a strong kid, he’s got speed, so the key for him was getting him into a position. We were trying him at different things to see where we can use him best. He got the call to step in at running back, and did an amazing job.
“The offensive line made it as easy for him as they could, doing a great job. We don’t have to over-complicate things. We can go back to running the ball and controlling the line of scrimmage.”
Running the ball also opens up the passing game. During the first 10 quarters, Memphis Louden was under constant fire and completed 31 of 67 for 295 yards. The last six quarters, he’s 11 of 17 for 167 yards, and BNL went from scoring 28 points in 2 1/2 games to 64 points in those six frames.
Seymour, on the other hand, will feature quarterback Bret Perry and a quartet of big, physical receivers. Perry has completed 40 of 87 for 644 yards and five touchdowns, with Kyle Hileman (12 catches, 265 yards, 4 TDs) stepping into the void when sophomore Jaylen Johnson (who torched BNL last season) went down during the preseason scrimmage with an injury. Johnson is projected to be back later this season.
“They’ve got four big receivers, that’s what makes them tricky,” Barker said. “They can play them at tight end or split out wide, they give you a bunch of different looks. It’s tough to identify what they’re doing. Perry is a great athlete and competitor, one of those kids you love having on your team but you don’t love playing against. He’s good at everything and just makes plays.
“We’ll find out how multi-faceted we are, how good we can be at reading keys and not allowing blown coverages.”
The rivals battled twice last season. BNL won the regular-season clash at Seymour, with Brye Lewis throwing two touchdown passes and scoring twice on the ground. Perry threw for 327 yards and three TDs that night. In the rematch, the Owls slogged through the rain for an 18-10 sectional win. Perry scored twice on the ground and threw for another score. The Stars were held to their lowest point total of that campaign.
The Owls are now allowing 28 points per game.
“BNL is hard to prepare for,” Moore said. “They do things well from on offensive side, they’ve got a solid quarterback and running back. As they have figured things out, they’ve become more and more dangerous. Their defense (with a 3-3 front) likes to confuse the line and make big plays.”
Seymour won’t flinch. The two comeback wins have prepared them to expect the worst.
“The message has been finding a way to fight past adversity,” Moore said. “Our team could have given in and accepted it, but the fight and drive to overcome has been very impressive. Now it shows us we’ve done it before.”
SEYMOUR at BNL
Kickoff: Friday, 7 p.m.
Records: Seymour 2-2 (2-1 in HHC); BNL 2-2 (2-0 in HHC)
Coaches: Tyson Moore, 9-15 in third season at Seymour; Derrick Barker, 6-8 in second year at BNL
Sagarin ratings: Seymour 41.18; BNL 50.23
Series: Seymour leads 25-22
Last meeting: Last year, the teams split two games. The Stars won the regular-season clash 35-29 at Seymour, but the Owls won the rematch 18-10 in the sectional semifinal at BNL.
Last year’s game: Owls wash away Stars
Game notes: BNL is chasing its first HHC title since 2006. The Stars are looking for their third straight conference win for the first time since 2018. BNL linebacker Kaedyn Bennett, injured against New Albany, will be a game-time decision to see action against the Owls.