By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Rulers can never rest easy. Not really. Just ask King Henry IV. There’s always a rival, a threat to the throne, whispers in the shadows or a direct confrontation for the crown. Bedford North Lawrence’s reign atop the Hoosier Hills Conference is about to be challenged.
The Stars, one of the league’s defending co-champions and the current leader in the standings, know how tough the duty of kingship can be, how heavy the responsibility becomes when so many want to remove the jeweled headpiece. They now face their toughest contender for the prize on Friday night.
BNL, perfect thus far in the conference, will visit Class 5A No.10 Floyd Central in a huge showdown for league supremacy on Friday night. The Highlanders (5-1 overall, 3-0 in the HHC) are chasing history, seeking their first HHC title since 2003, hoping to unseat the Stars (4-2, 4-0) from their lofty position.
These teams have been on a collision course. BNL has won four straight games in its title defense, while Floyd is undefeated against Indiana competition this season. The Stars can clinch at least a share of the championship with a road victory. It doesn’t get bigger, or better, than this.
“It’s an honor to be 4-0 so far,” BNL senior Kline Woodward said. “It’s awesome to get the opportunity to win the HHC in my senior year. It’d be awesome to go two years in a row with a championship. We’re playing for a lot.”
Hyperbole is unnecessary. The first six weeks of the season have identified the league’s best, both in terms of records and metrics. Now they will clash on the turf of Ron Weigleb Stadium, like one of those great battle scenes from Game of Thrones.
“I don’t think you need to hype it,” BNL coach Derrick Barker said. “The kids know it’s a big game, they know what it means. But at the same time, our mantra all year has been controlling what we can control, playing our best game.
“We knew coming into the year we would be one of the teams projected to have a shot at winning it. Teams have been gunning for us. We’re in the position we want to be, it’s where we planned on being, so we will get their best shot. We have to be ready and play our best game.”
BNL might need its best. After Floyd lost its opener to Louisville power Trinity, the Highlanders have powered through every foe on this side of the Ohio River. They’ve won a couple of heartstoppers, pulling out last-minute wins over Terre Haute South (34-33) and Seymour (50-47 with a heroic fourth-quarter comeback), but that’s what good teams do. And the Highlanders are definitely that.
Senior quarterback Tristan Robertson is the offensive catalyst. He’s completed 71 of 122 passes for 1,258 yards and 15 touchdowns (with only two interceptions), and his top target is one of the best in junior Isaac Kaiser (31 catches, 697 yards, 11 TDs). There’s also running-game balance with senior Mitch Bernardi, who has rushed for 525 yards and 6 touchdowns despite missing the last two games. He is expected back to battle the Stars.
“Very good quarterback, very good receiver,” Barker said. “They’ve really picked it up while Bernardi has been out and made up for any missed productivity. Bernardi is a stud, but they have a couple of guys back there who can be dangerous and hard to tackle. If you give Robertson five or six seconds back there, he will pick you apart. First and foremost, we have to stop the run, then limit the explosive plays.
“They showed they are a resilient group and can come from behind. They’re never out of a game. They can erase a deficit pretty quickly.”
Floyd’s defense has also risen to the occasion of late, allowing only 10 points combined the last two weeks (Jeffersonville and Columbus East).
BNL will counter with a strong defense that has allowed only 19.8 points per game (and never more than 28) while winning the turnover battles. On offense, while the Stars have yet to erupt with volcanic power, they’ve been efficient and balanced. Cal Gates, who is expected to play following an injury scare last weeks, leads the ground game with 483 yards and six touchdowns. Memphis Louden has been a dual-threat at quarterback (35 of 83 for 709 yards and 8 TDs passing, 414 yards and 8 TDs on the ground).
“There are still things to clean up,” Barker said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best game, what we’re really capable of doing. We have to keep getting better and play our best game this week.”
Defense was the difference last year. The Stars sacked Robertson four times, forced three turnovers, and ended Floyd’s four-game winning streak in the series when Billy Cline kicked a 31-yard field goal with six seconds left for a 13-10 triumph. Gates ran for 103 yards, while Robertson was 17 of 24 for 225 yards and two interceptions.
BNL’s last win at Floyd came in 2018.
“It’s Floyd, it’s not easy playing there,” BNL senior Ryker Hughes said. “Our offense has to be on top of it, our defense has to be on top of it. We can’t have mistakes.
“It means everything. It’s our senior year, we can go out with a bang. It will be a really good game.”
BNL at FLOYD CENTRAL
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Records: BNL 4-2 (4-0 in HHC); Floyd Central 5-1 (3-0 in HHC), ranked No.10 in Class 5A
Coaches: Derrick Barker, 14-13 in third season at BNL; James Bragg, 34-25 in sixth season at Floyd Central
Sagarin ratings: BNL 62.72; Floyd Central 67.72
Series: Floyd Central leads 30-24
Last meeting: Last year at BNL, Billy Cline kicked a 31-yard field goal with 6 seconds left as the Stars won a thriller, 13-10. Cal Gates ran for 103 yards for BNL. Tristan Robertson threw for 225 yards for the Highlanders.
Previous game story: Clutch Cline’s late field goal boots BNL to win
Game notes: Floyd Central is chasing its first HHC title since 2003, while BNL is a defending league co-champion. BNL’s four-game winning streak is its longest since 2018. Floyd has not won six straight games since 2003.