By Justin Sokeland
COLUMBUS – On a misty, lonely ol’ night that was fit for reading a good book in front of a roaring fireplace, needing a motivational flame to warm its soul, Bedford North Lawrence turned the pages of history.
For the first time in 26 years, which is about six generations in football timekeeping, the Stars won a road game in the series with Columbus East. While the current Olympians are not equal to their predecessors, the name on that jersey still commands respect. So as a rival won the Hoosier Hills Conference championship, BNL celebrated a smaller – yet significant – accomplishment in the regular-season finale.
Cal Gates and Memphis Louden powered the Stars to a 28-21 triumph, spoiling the Senior Night celebration for East on Friday night. Both BNL headliners scored twice, and the Stars weathered an East storm in the fourth quarter to post their first win in Columbus since 1997. Few on that sideline could remember that far back, but they’ll remember this one as BNL closed the campaign with a sparkling 6-3 record.
Gates rumbled for 191 rushing yards and two second-half touchdowns, Louden accounted for the first two BNL scores, and the Stars overcame some mental breakdowns while East (3-6) almost erased a three-score deficit in the fourth quarter. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, and this certainly did not. Ending East’s invincibility on its home turf, especially when the Olympians were defending the honor of their upperclassmen, was more difficult that expected.
“It’s East,” BNL coach Derrick Barker said. “It means something to play these guys, they’re a great program. For a lot of years, they were the benchmark for this conference. We talked all week about doing something to be remembered for, and I think that’s something we can be proud of. It’s been a while.”
Winning the league title would have made it special, but about two hours to the south, Class 5A No. 8 Floyd Central was clinching its solo crown with a 47-0 demolition of New Albany. So BNL had to settle for a consolation prize, and a rare victory at Stafford Field qualified.
“It’s great to win at East,” Gates said. “It does mean a lot. It’s Columbus East. You always want to beat East, they’ve been good for so long.”
East’s unprecedented dominance of the league (96 straight wins and 17 consecutive titles) was built on power – massive offensive lines and an unstoppable running attack. So it’s a little ironic for BNL to close this chapter by prevailing in the power pits. The Stars churned out 315 rushing yards, most of that during the second half.
Louden scored the only touchdown in the first half, jetting home from 20 yards with 11:23 left in the second quarter. After intermission, BNL finally figured out a way to combat East’s multiple defenses and ripped out big-chunk runs to create separation and then burn most of the clock when East rallied late to make the Stars squirm.
BNL took a 14-0 lead midway through the third quarter. Louden connected with Gates for 35 yards on a swing pass, Gates converted a fourth down with a burrowing run to the 1, and Louden muscled over from there. On the next series, Gates crashed home from 16 yards for a 20-0 advantage.
Safe? Not when BNL’s defense inexplicably fell apart – not once, but twice. Blown coverages in the secondary gifted East two scores. The first was Kyson’s Villarreal’s 66-yard bomb (two plays and 48 seconds after the second Louden TD) to tight end Jared Brooks, who was so far behind any defenders that it appeared he came off the sideline unannounced. BNL responded with two Gates blasts – a 40-yard explosion and a 23-yard option run on fourth down for his second score. Brayden Baker’s two-point conversion pass to Tate Tanksley made it 28-7 with 11:50 left.
Once again, the Stars fell down. Two plays later, Villarreal spotted another wide-open receiver, hitting Keaton Lawson for 61 yards and a 28-14 difference. East went the long way on its next drive, going 84 yards in 13 plays, capped by Villarreal’s 15-yard strike to Lawson with 4:15 left.
“We really made a lot of mental errors,” Barker said. “A couple of blown coverages, penalties 20 yards away from the ball that weren’t needed. The effort was there, but we need to be more emotionally intelligent. We have to understand there are things we can’t do. But it’s stuff we can clean up.”
BNL managed to escape, even after Louden’s 80-yard touchdown was wiped out by a holding penalty. Maddox Ray’s 41-yard scamper forced East to burn all its timeouts to get the ball back at the 20 with 1:35 left. Two plays later, a bad-snap fumble was scooped by BNL’s Gibson Crane.
“We finished the game,” Barker said. “We made the plays we needed.”
In addition to Gates, Louden finished with 72 rushing yards. Trace Rynders (who stepped into an emergency role as a kicker with Ryker Hughes sidelined by injury) caught three passes. Another key weapon was Kline Woodward, who boomed a 63-yard punt in the first half and later pinned East at the 1-yard line with another outstanding kick.
“Kline had a heck of a game, flipping field position,” Barker said. “That was huge for us.”
Villarreal threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns after starting 2 of 10. But he was sacked three times. Lawson caught six passes for 116 yards.
“Defensively we played really well in the first half,” East coach Eddie Vogel said. “Bedford has a good offense, they’re a good football team. If we could have put two halves together with both sides of the ball playing, we felt we could have played with them. I’m proud of the fight our guys came with in the second half.”
Gates had 144 yards rushing in the second half.
“The first half was very difficult, we couldn’t find any holes,” he said. “We talked about what we needed to do and change, and it was much better in the second half.”
“We were flat,” Barker said. “Maybe fall break had something do with it, we were out of our routine. We couldn’t get settled in on how we wanted to attack them. Cal made some incredible runs. It was good execution in the second half.”
BNL will now focus on the postseason. The Stars will visit Evansville Harrison in the first round of Class 4A’s Sectional 24 next week.
Bedford NL 0 7 13 8 – 28
Columbus East 0 0 7 14 – 21
BNL – Memphis Louden, 20 run (Trace Rynders kick), 11:23
BNL – Louden, 1 run (Rynders kick), 7:01; BNL – Cal Gates, 16 run (kick failed), 2:39; CE – Jared Brooks, 66 pass from Kyson Villarreal (Skylar Bailey kick), 1:51
BNL – Gates, 23 run (Tate Tanksley pass from Brayden Baker), 11:50; CE – Keaton Lawson, 61 pass from Villarreal (Bailey kick), 11:02; CE – Lawson, 15 pass from Villarreal (Bailey kick), 4:15
BNL – First downs 16 (14 by run, 2 by pass); Rushing 49-315; Passing 9-23-0-89; Total yards 404; Fumbles 1 (lost 0); Penalties 8-64
East – First downs 11 (6 by run, 4 by pass, 1 by penalty); Rushing 31-116; Passing 11-23-0-222; Total yards 338; Fumbles 1 (lost 1); Penalties 1-5
Rushing – (BNL) Louden 21-72, Gates 24-191, Ray 3-50, Brosamle 1-2; (CE) Villarreal 18-52, Welles 11-64, Houpey 2-0
Passing – (BNL) Louden 9-23-0-89; (CE) Villarreal 11-23-0-222
Receiving – (BNL) Rynders 3-27, Gates 2-39, Childs 1-5, Ray 2-9, Pedersen 1-9; (CE) Siegman 1-5, Lawson 6-116, Brooks 2-75, Herron 2-26