By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – If football had a version of the Ten Commandments, principles that are undeniably fundamental and thus should be carved in stone, the first edict on the list would read “Thou shalt run the ball.”
Obey, and succeed. Defy, and suffer. Even with the recent evolution of the game, with the read-pass option attack becoming more prevalent, even with the love affair of the passing offense and quarterback-friendly rule adjustments, the most basic tenet still applies. Bedford North Lawrence has learned lately that the old ways are still the best ways.
The Stars (1-2, 1-0 in the league) were dangerously competitive in two road games against ranked opponents, and highly successful in the home opener last week against Jeffersonville, because they could generate yards – and touchdowns – on the ground. They’ll seek to continue that trend when they welcome New Albany for an important Hoosier Hills Conference clash on Friday night.
BNL’s ground assault has been in the spotlight with junior Cal Gates (212 yards and three touchdowns in three games, including 108 last week), senior Piaire Childs (156 yards and two TDs) and senior quarterback Memphis Louden (169 yards, 2 TDs). The Stars are averaging 187 rushing yards per game, so a lot of credit must also go to the offensive line of Garrett Hayes, Kline Woodward, Junior Arellano, Brady Byers and Cade Mungle.
“They’ve done a really good job,” BNL coach Derrick Barker said. “We felt we had a strong group up there. And we bring in some tight ends that have added an extra blocker, and the running backs have done a good job of blocking for each other. We’re coming together as a unit.
“That’s been our game plan going into each week. We feel like we have a pretty good run game. We’d like to get the passing game going a little more, but at the end of the day we have to do what’s best for us.”
That team strength will be tested by the Bulldogs (1-2, 1-0 in the Hoosier Hills Conference). Why? Last season, BNL literally ran over New Albany. Gates exploded for a school-record 270 yards (including 80 on his first touch) and three scores, while the Stars totaled 346 yards rushing during a 45-21 triumph. Guess what the Bulldogs will be focusing on.
“We’ve done a good job of running the ball,” Barker said. “But they’ll be keyed up to stop it after last year and our last couple of games.”
New Albany, after a top-heavy start with losses to Franklin and Louisville’s Christian Academy (Kentucky’s defending Class 3A state champion), is coming off a 41-20 win over Jennings County. The Bulldogs lost starting quarterback Kenneth Watson with an injury during that contest, but they still totaled 392 yards. Klay Kaiser ran for 117 yards and a TD, and Chase Loesch authored two TD passes in relief.
The big question is Watson’s status. New Albany is awaiting the results of x-rays on the left-hander’s hand. If he’s not available, and that would be a big blow to the Bulldogs after he completed 10 of 11 passes for 150 yards and two scores last year against BNL, New Albany has already prepared Option B.
“We have two game plans – one with Kenny, one without Kenny,” veteran NA coach Steve Cooley said. “We’ve worked on both so I think the kids are comfortable either way.”
“It certainly changes some things,” Barker said. “He has a good skill set as far as a thrower and a runner, and they finished the game with their biggest kid (Loesch) who made some really good throws, a couple of touchdown passes to seal the game. So on size alone, he could be tough in the run game.
“From the style of game it looks like it will be, with run-focused teams, possessions might be limited. We can’t waste a possession on offense. We can’t put the ball on the carpet, can’t have penalties that get us behind the chains. It’s crucial. We have to be physical.”
If there’s a second football edict, it reads “Thou shalt not turn the ball over.” And that’s been BNL’s defensive secret. The Stars have forced seven turnovers (four interceptions, three fumbles) thus far, and New Albany aided its own demise with three last year against BNL. Of course, the Stars coughed up five fumbles (and lost two) during last week’s win over the Red Devils. Ball security was discussed.
New Albany’s mandate will be discipline. The Bulldogs will obviously lock in on Gates but can’t overlook the other weapons.
“He’s talented, he’s fast,” Cooley said. “We’ll have to tackle well. Louden makes them go. We have to do what we can to be sound against the option. They do a lot of different things, and in the passing game (Louden is 12 of 27 for 315 yards and three TDs) they take shots when they can. We can’t be looking in the backfield. We have to play assignment football.”
Both teams will be looking to keep pace with Seymour in the league race. The Owls (2-0 in the HHC) will visit Floyd Central this week.
NEW ALBANY at BNL
Kickoff: Friday, 7 p.m.
Records: New Albany 1-2 (1-0 in HHC); BNL 1-2 (1-0 in HHC)
Coaches: Steve Cooley, 32-33 in seventh season at New Albany (154-148 in 29th year overall); Derrick Barker, 11-13 in third season at BNL
Sagarin ratings: New Albany 51.32; BNL 59.45
Series: BNL leads 24-21
Last meeting: Last year at New Albany, Cal Gates ran for a school-record 270 yards and three touchdowns as the Stars rumbled to a 45-21 victory. Kenneth Watson completed 10 of 11 passes with two TDs for the Bulldogs, who were guilty of three turnovers.
Previous game story: The Gates swing open as Stars explode
Game notes: BNL is a defending HHC co-champion. The Stars are chasing their eighth league title.