By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – The Latin term is Terra nullius, more commonly known as “no man’s land.” That’s where Bedford North Lawrence resides this week, caught between red-letter games in a motivational wasteland. Danger lurks.
The Stars, coming off a Senior Night shelling of Madison and looking forward to the postseason, will tread cautiously through the potentially emotional desolation when they visit Columbus East for the regular-season finale on Friday night. The Olympians will be celebrating their Senior Night, seeking revenge for last year’s loss at BNL.
BNL’s driving force will be sheer pride. The Stars haven’t won in Columbus since 1997, and there’s also the long-shot possibility of a Hoosier Hills Conference title. BNL would share the league crown with a win and a Floyd Central loss at New Albany. However, the Highlanders (ranked No.8 in Class 5A) will be overwhelming favorites in that clash – although stranger things have happened.
The Stars (5-3 overall, 4-1 in the HHC) can’t count on any unexpected help. What they can count on is a determined opponent (East is 3-5 overall but 3-1 in the league) that won 17 straight meetings in the series until last season.
“The motivation is we get to play another football game against a pretty good team, one we haven’t had a lot of success against,” BNL coach Derrick Barker said. “It’s Week 9 and it’s a chance to finish the regular season on a high note. We’ll have to be ready to play.
“That will be a big challenge. They’re coming off a big win (25-7 at Jeffersonville) last week, with it being Senior Night and playing at home. They’re a physical team, so I expect them to try to bring it at us. We have to match their physicality and their focus, their energy level.”
East is no longer the unstoppable juggernaut that dominated the league for almost two decades (winning an unprecedented 96 conference games in a row). Yet the trademarks of success remain intact. These Olympians, with underclassmen doing a lot of lifting, will still feature the power running game.
Sophomore quarterback Kyson Villarreal sets the tone, totaling 615 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He’s also thrown for 586 yards and five scores. Senior running back Tyler Weller has accounted for 442 yards and six TDs.
“Their identity is in the run game and being physical,” Barker said. “It’s a lot of what East has always done. They’ve added some new wrinkles that makes them tougher to defend.”
Defense was BNL’s key to success last year. The Stars forced three interceptions and recorded four sacks, blocked a punt and allowed only 56 rushing yards during a 21-3 win. BNL was guilty of four turnovers in a sloppy performance, but Memphis Louden ran for 95 yards (including a clinching 54-yard TD run) and Cal Gates threw a halfback pass for a score as the Stars scored all their points in the final 13 minutes.
Gates leads the balanced BNL offense with 630 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns. Louden has ran for 463 yards (and 9 TDs) while throwing for 1,025 yards and 12 TDs (with only one interception). East’s defense is allowing 30.5 points per game.
Conquering East and ending the road losing streak in the series would be a perfect springboard into the Class 4A sectional road trip to Evansville Harrison next week.
“With high school kids, momentum is a real thing,” Barker said. “It’s very important, it matters. We need to have that confidence going into the sectional. So it’s big to get another win and keep rolling.”
BNL at COLUMBUS EAST
Kickoff: Friday, 7 p.m.
Records: BNL 5-3 (4-1 in HHC); Columbus East 3-5 (3-2 in HHC)
Coaches: Derrick Barker 15-14 in third season at BNL; Eddie Vogel 11-17 in third season at East (22-40 in six seasons overall)
Sagarin ratings: BNL 65.16; Columbus East 49.10
Series: Columbus East leads 40-12
Last meeting: Last year at BNL, the Stars ended East’s 17-game winning streak in the series with a 21-3 victory on Senior Night. BNL forced three turnovers and recorded four sacks. Memphis Louden had 95 yards rushing for the Stars.
Previous game story: Stars wear the golden crown
Game notes: BNL has not won at East since 1997. The Stars could earn a share of the HHC title with a win and a Floyd Central loss at New Albany.