By Justin Sokeland
NORTH VERNON – On a normal grading scale, D indicates less than satisfactory. Bedford North Lawrence earned that grade, but this time it meant Defense. Discipline. Dominance. Definitely not Defeat. More like Divine.
Facing a unique, one-trick-pony attack that required mental and physical toughness to control, the Stars passed the test. On the wings of a high-flying defense and a running quarterback, BNL posted another crucial victory and climbed back to the top of the Hoosier Hills Conference.
Memphis Louden ran for 141 yards and a touchdown, rifled a touchdown pass to Dylan NIkirk, and BNL’s determined defense grounded the Wing-T during a sensational first half that powered the Stars to a 21-7 victory over Jennings County on Friday night, marring the Homecoming festivities for the Panthers. Cal Gates added another touchdown run as BNL (3-3 overall, 3-1 in the league) remained undefeated on the road this season. Go figure.
While the focus is usually on the offense, the BNL defense earned the spotlight during a bare-knuckle first half. The Panthers were limited to two first downs and 48 total yards – plus a turnover – on six possessions that went nowhere while the Stars stormed to a 21-0 lead. Jennings kept BNL out of the end zone in the second half, but the damage had been done.
BNL’s defense had multiple layers and heroes. The keys were the outside linebackers as Kline Woodward (thrust into an emergency starting role) and Ruel Steele kept the Panthers pinned down. Greg Gilbert was a force on the front line, Collin Whitaker picked off a pass in the secondary.
“I thought our defense played great in the first half,” BNL coach Derrick Barker said. “The run defense was really good – reading keys, being disciplined and being physical. To hold them to one score, I’m pretty happy with that. They’re good at what they do, they’re much improved.”
BNL’s battle cry? “Don’t get caught chasing candy.” Translated, that meant doing the assigned job. The Wing-T relies on misdirection and counter intelligence to succeed. BNL’s first half was textbook on how to stop it.
“Their offense is weird, honestly,” said Woodward, who was inserted into the crosshairs when normal starter Tyson Patterson went down with an illness. “But after you pick up on it, you’ve got it.”
BNL got its offense in gear late in the first quarter. Louden scrambled for 17 yards, Gates smashed for 10, then burst through the middle and scored from 20 at the 2:29 mark. Whitaker’s interception set up the next touchdown, with Louden connecting with Nikirk for a 68-yard strike. Nikirk caught that ball on the left sideline, paused and sidestepped a defender, then won the footrace to the end zone with 31 seconds left in the opening stanza.
Louden did most of the work on the next possession. He darted 12 yards to start it, found Kole Bailey and Trace Rynders with pinpoint passes, then ripped off 27 yards on an option keeper around the left side. On first-and-goal, he raced in untouched from the six for the three-score lead.
BNL had other scoring chances after that spurt. The Stars got stopped on fourth down at the eight to end the first half, got into the red zone to open the second half and couldn’t convert, and finished the contest with back-to-back kneels by Louden after his 34-yard blast ended at the 3-yard line.
Jennings finally found some cracks in the fourth quarter. Junior quarterback Sam Burkman broke loose for runs of 21 and 23 yards, hit Austin Wells for 11 yards to convert a first down, then lofted a 15-yard touchdown pass to Parker Elmore in the right corner of the end zone with 9:57 left.
“We had to attack,” JC coach T.J. Newton said. “We were playing passive up front. We weren’t attacking. We had to come off and attack them. Bedford did a nice job of being the aggressor, we had to flip the script.”
In addition to his running yardage, Louden completed 9 of 21 passes for 188 yards. Nikirk caught three passes for 133 yards. BNL chewed up a lot of turf (430 yards) without a lot to show for it.
“It was ugly at times, but an ugly win is better than a pretty loss,” Barker said. “Memphis did a good job of getting it out, Dylan made some incredible plays after the catch, and we found some things. He showed he’s more than just a passer.”
Burkman paced Jennings with 75 rushing yards, and he completed 10 short passes for a modest 68 yards. The rest of the Wing-T herd managed only 34 yards on 15 carries, and Gilbert was one of the main reasons. Jennings had eight runs of zero or negative yards. “He was a single-man wrecking force,” Barker said.
“We had to stay disciplined,” Gilbert said. “It was fun. I love hard-nosed football. We played really well in the first half.”
Here’s the weirdest stat of all. BNL is 3-0 on the road, 0-3 at home. And after Floyd Central’s 14-12 victory over Columbus East, the Stars share the league lead again (with East and Seymour). That sets up a huge conference clash with the Highlanders next week at BNL.
Bedford NL 14 7 0 0 – 21
Jennings Co. 0 0 0 7 – 7
BNL – Cal Gates, 20 run (Ryker Hughes kick), 2:29; BNL – Dylan Nikirk, 68 pass from Memphis Louden (Hughes kick), 0:31
BNL – Louden, 6 run (Hughes kick), 8:10
JC – Parker Elmore, 15 pass from Sam Burkman (Austin Wells kick), 9:57
BNL – First downs 16 (10 by run, 6 by pass); Rushing 35-242; Passing 9-21-0-188; Total yards 430; Fumbles 0; Penalties 5-42
JC – First downs 10 (5 buy run, 4 by pass, 1 by penalty; Rushing 28-109: Passing 10-27-1-68: Total yards 177; Fumbles 0; Penalties 4-20
Rushing – (BNL) Louden 14-141, Gates 15-78, Nikirk 4-21, Rynders 2-2; (JC) Burkman 13-75, Braun 7-15, Hines 6-16, Doty 1-2, Ison 1-1
Passing – (BNL) Louden 9-21-0-188; (JC) Burkman 10-27-1-68
Receiving – (BNL) Nikirk 3-133, Hughes 1-5, Rynders 3-32, Bailey 2-18; (JC) Wells 1-11, Elmore 3-21, Thomas 3-20, Lewis 1-3, Doty 1-5, Ison 1-8