Before we get to the Outside the Huddle All-Area Team and our end-of-year awards, Blitz wanted to take some time and take a last glance at area conferences and hand out some league-specific hardware.
Next up is the Northeast 8.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JOSH ARNTZ, COLUMBIA CITY
The toughest award to give out in the NE8 this season is player of the year. In terms of most dynamic or stat filling, Arntz isn’t that guy. But in terms of delivering game in and game out at a high level, no one was better.
The two-way standout was one of the Eagles’ leading rushers with 634 yards and 10 touchdowns. Only Ethan Sievers scored more on the ground than Arntz did.
At his outside linebacker spot, Arntz led the defensive unit with 15 tackles for loss and was second on the team with 86 tackles. He also added a trio of sacks and an interception.
It was a special season for Columbia City football. The player of the year honor feels right going to someone from the Eagles.
HONORABLE MENTION: Mylan Graham, New Haven; Luke Graft, Norwell
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: BRODY BOLYN, NORWELL
When most people talk about Bolyn they center on him anchoring the offensive line for a rushing attack that averaged close to 275 yards per game.
But often forgotten is the fact that Bolyn also was a regular stalwart along the defensive front for the Knights as well, in addition to serving as the team’s punter. He was so versatile in that in making the All-NE8 First Team he was honored in the punting spot, not the obvious offensive or defensive line.
Combine it all and Bolyn is easily the most valuable player in the league for 2022. He was vastly important in all three facets of the game. Yes, Norwell had its fair share of playmakers, but the Knights are significantly less effective in all aspects without Bolyn.
A future at Bowling Green is locked in for Bolyn, likely on the offensive side of the ball. But the Norwell senior showcased his talents on defense as well.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tegan Irk, DeKalb; Ethan Sievers, Columbia City
BREAKOUT PLAYER: STRATTON FULLER, COLUMBIA CITY
Honestly, you can make a case for Fuller to win in any of the above categories. His impact was huge at various parts of the season, none bigger than against Leo when he blocked a game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation, then made a textbook tackle at the goal line to prevent a score in overtime.
Fuller led Columbia City in the passing attack – 53 receptions (38 more than any other CC player), 860 yards (589 more than any other CC player) and 12 touchdowns. Arguably his most impressive offensive play of the year was against New Haven when he beat Mylan Graham in single coverage downfield and broke away from the D1 talent for a long touchdown.
His impact on special teams has already been noted, and Fuller was one of the state’s leaders in interceptions with six to go with 32 tackles.
Fuller is already one of the top players in the NE8 and he is just a sophomore. Scary.
HONORABLE MENTION: Brock Schott, Leo; Dylan Krehl, East Noble
COACH OF THE YEAR: BRETT FOX, COLUMBIA CITY
When it came to preseason expectations in the Northeast 8, everyone, Blitz included, was on board with the Norwell Knights.
No one gave anyone else much of a shot, but Columbia City defied the doubters in securing the program’s first-ever NE8 championship with a Week 9 victory over Norwell.
Fox was at the forefront of it all. While many outside the program asked how the program could replace Greg Bolt, Fox had the confidence in Colten Pieper to take over the QB1 position. Talented juniors and sophomores combined with an underrated senior class propelled Columbia City to a 4-1 start. But how would the Eagles handle the rigors of the second-half regular-season schedule that had tripped them up so many times before?
Fox’s squad answered those questions with emphatic dubs – a 42-point rout of New Haven; dropping East Noble by 23; a 15-point handling of Leo. All three led into the Week 9 showdown with Norwell.
And the run continued in the playoffs. A comeback win at Wayne. Fuller’s heroics overcoming Leo in the sectional final, securing the program’s first postseason title 29 years.
It was a special season in Columbia City with Fox as the leader.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jason Doerffler, Leo
GAME OF THE YEAR: Columbia City 25, Norwell 24, Week 9
We were all buying into the Eagles at this point in the season, but we believed they would be exposed by the Knights in this one. After all, Norwell had only allowed a total of 28 points through the first eight games and had rolled through the NE8 up to that point.
Instead, it was Norwell that was exposed as the Eagles captured their first league championship since 2010.
Josh Arntz’s touchdown run with less than a minute left, coupled with a Landon Urban PAT, lifted Columbia City to the victory to close out the regular season. The Eagles were able to do what so many other teams couldn’t – wear down the Knights, run the ball just well enough and force Norwell to go to the air offensively.
The climax of the game was the perfect ending to a regular season that did not go as expected for Norwell and gave us all a stellar story to tell with CC football.
EARLY PICK FOR 2023 NE8 CHAMPIONS: EAST NOBLE
With multiple losses in the conference in each of the last three seasons, East Noble hasn’t been a factor in the league race late in the year.
But that should change in 2023. A lot of talent returns for the Knights, young talent that was thrown into the wolves in a lot of ways over the past few years.
Zander Brazel will be a senior at QB with loads of experience and another offseason to get better. The top three running backs will be back and nearly all of the wide receiver corps.
Defensively, the top three tacklers – led by Connor Leins – will be back in action as well as nearly the entire secondary.
Sure, going from 3-4 in the league to being NE8 champion is a big jump, but East Noble has plenty of proven talent back for ’23. That coupled with the losses at places like Norwell and Columbia City should play in the Knights’ favor.
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