Well what else would it be?
There is no need to justify it. There is rarely a title still on the line heading into the last game of the regular season.
Columbia City at Norwell is the Outside the Huddle Game of the Week.
WHAT IS ON THE LINE
Just the Northeast 8 Conference championship.
Both teams sit a perfect 6-0 in the conference and combined 15-1 coming into the final week of the regular season. Lets face it, you don’t often get contests this good with so much on the line in Week 9. But here we are with Norwell still unbeaten and Columbia City riding high after getting through its end-of-season gauntlet better than it ever has in the short history of the NE8.
Norwell leads the state in defensive average, giving up just 3.5 points per game, while Columbia City is tied for 13th, giving up just 9.2 points themselves. Both are top 10 teams in their respective classes in scoring average and top 5 in average margin of victory.
This is about as big of a heavyweight fight as the NE8 has ever seen in Week 9.
While both programs have been good in the past, titles have eluded them, with Columbia City’s last conference crown coming in 2010 and Norwell’s in 2009.
But this also isn’t the Northeast Hoosier Conference anymore, so do those matter? In the NE8, the best finish for either team has been second, which Norwell has done in back-to-back years in 2020 and 2021.
One team is leaving Norwell’s turf champions on Friday night. So as far as “what’ on the line,” it is easy to say this is the most important Outside the Huddle Game of the Week all season long.
Norwell certainly has the edge, winning two-thirds of the last 35 meetings, including 2021’s 23-13 affair.
But it is also fair to say that no recent game in this series holds the weight that Friday does. In 2021, Columbia City was clinging to hope of a winning NE8 season while Norwell was basically already resigned to a second-place finish.
The same could be said for 2020, where Columbia City was more than solid and put on a good show opposite Eli Riley and the Knights, but Norwell knew that second place was as good as it would get. In 2019, the teams were actually just playing for fifth place in the NE8 standings when they met to close the season.
That 2019 campaign and the fifth place it brought was the last time the Eagles won in this series, so there hasn’t been any kind of big drought. That season, Columbia City took home a 17-13 victory.
Two years ago was fun, also serving as the Outside the Huddle Game of the Week. Columbia City started the season strong but did not get through the gauntlet of New Haven, East Noble and Leo unscathed, so the Eagles didn’t have something to compete for. Yet they played like it was a championship game in the 45-34 loss that saw both teams throw a lot of caution to the wind.
Since Brett Fox took over the Columbia City program in 2014 the program is 5-4 against the Knights. Fox holds a 4-2 edge in matchups against Coach Josh Gerber, who started in 2016.
When Fox and Gerber have gone head to head, it is Columbia City with a 146-116 lead in total scoring. If you look at all nine games that Fox has coached against Norwell while with the Eagles, his teams still hold the edge, but as narrowly as you can get: 206-205. Among those nine games are a pair of one-point overtime wins for the Eagles.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
JAMES GETTS, COLUMBIA CITY
After last week’s effort, how can you not think you need to watch James Getts? Diversity in the run game is one of Columbia City’s biggest strengths, with Getts taking center stage last week. What he showed showed last Friday in a win over Leo is that he can get to the edge and take off. He did it with great success against the Lions, so the eyes will be on him to see if he can do it against the Knights.
Getts is currently averaging 9.3 yards per carry for 549 yards and five touchdowns with two games of over 100 yards rushing.
LUKE GRAFT, NORWELL
The emergence of some teammates and the early blowouts for Norwell have meant that the name Luke Graft probably hasn’t been muttered enough around the area. But at the end of the day, Norwell will succeed as Graft succeeds. He still leads the team in rushing, compiling 514 yards with 11 touchdowns and is even 3-of-4 passing and has touchdowns in passing and receiving.
Where Graft could make the biggest impact on Friday is on defense, an area where he probably still hasn’t shown much general respect. Graft ranks second on the team in tackles, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and a team-high five sacks. Graft does it all, so it is unlikely you will miss him in this matchup.
KEYS TO THE GAME
COLUMBIA CITY: Trust Stratton Fuller
The kid has some chops. Fuller is a guy that makes things happen and teams have adjusted accordingly. The sophomore is certainly getting more attention teams want to know where he is at all times. On defense, he typically matches up on one of the best opposing receivers. He is great at reading the ball in the air and getting in position to make a play.
Offensively, Fuller is your big-play threat. He had a couple of nice balls slip through his fingers last Friday in a win over Leo, but he used it as fuel. Those were a couple of surprising drops, but immediately the Columbia City sideline was great at raising his spirits and that should continue. Get Fuller the ball, trust him.
NORWELL: Diversify the run game
This one shouldn’t be hard for the Knights because they have done it all season. Everyone was keyed on Luke Graft coming into 2022 after a breakout year last season. And Graft has continued to be a big key in the run game. But so has Drew Graft, so has Timothy Bonjour, so has Drew Ringger, so has Jon Colbert. Norwell, like Columbia City, has so many guys who can run the ball, it keeps teams super unbalanced in terms of who to key on.
Of the guys mentioned above, Colbert’s 161 yards on 31 carries is the low end compared to Luke Graft’s 514 yards on 94 carries. Drew Graft runs for over 10 yards per carry and the Knights as a team have run for 34 touchdowns compared to nine through the air. Even Brody Bolyn has gotten to power a score in this year. Norwell is tough on the ground and staying diverse will keep Columbia City guessing a bit.
COLUMBIA CITY: Get into the backfield
You read it above, Norwell can pound the ball. You will read it below, Norwell can pass the ball. One common denominator for the Eagles: just get into the backfield and take away as much of the offensive firepower as you can. For all of the love Norwell’s defense gets, the Eagles are giving up just 9.25 points per game, which is the third-best average in Class 4A. So they aren’t slouches eithery. That said, they are coming off a win where they gave up a lot of run yardage to a single player in Leo’s Max Loeffler.
Dominic Chacon was all over the place last week against Leo. It seemed like every time any tackle was made for the Eagles, his name was being called on the PA system. He leads the Eagles with 54 tackles while Josh Arntz is right there at 48. Both can be scary against Norwell if they get by the line. Columbia City has eight sacks on the season, with four of them coming from Jackson Geiger, a number they’d love to add to that this week.
But perhaps most important is forcing Norwell to rush some things if the Eagles can get into the backfield early.
NORWELL: Don’t be afraid to pass the ball
One thing that failed Leo last week against Columbia City was its passing plays. After Stratton Fuller picked off a pass for Columbia City early in the game, the Lions hesitated in the air. Norwell can’t do that. The likes of Fuller and Josh Arntz are going to loom in the secondary, but Norwell has thrived throughout the season picking its spots in the air.
Teams think the Knights are going to run the ball, in fact they know that they will run the ball. So the mixing up of the play calling has allowed Norwell to thrive. Look back at the game against Leo. The Lions actually did a decent job with the run stop, but they couldn’t stop Lleyton Bailey through the air. Norwell has worked hard to be a balanced team, so even if one hiccup happens, you can’t be afraid to keep going back to the well in the aerial game.
Check back for Blitz’s picks to find out!
Be the first to comment