WHATS ON THE LINE
First place in the Northeast 8 Conference is the main thing, but as we know from recent seasons, it is hard for one game to determine the NE8.
With Leo and East Noble sitting at one conference loss each, the loser of this showdown in New Haven will join them while the winner will have sole possession of first place.
If that is Columbia City, then it will still have a tough road with Leo and East Noble remaining. If New Haven comes out with the win, the Bulldogs will stay unbeaten in the conference with a remaining schedule that includes East Noble and the two bottom teams in the conference.
There won’t be a four-way tie in the NE8, but a three-way tie is possible and both of these teams could factor into that.
Most importantly, the winner of this one will control its destiny in the conference and, even though it,s just Week 6, the lead in this wild conference matters.
Currently, Columbia City’s 48.8 points per game is tied for 5th in the entire state and its average margin of victory, 35.6, is the 10th best. That makes them first and second, respectively, in Class 4A, while New Haven is ranked 7th and 10th in Class 4A in those categories. That said, the Bulldogs are ranked 6th in 4A in the Sagarin Ratings while Columbia City is 18th; with neither team’s combined opponent records above .500.
This has been a back and forth overall series with New Haven holding a 23-14 edge over the past 35 seasons.
New Haven coach Kyle Booher is 1-1 over his two years against Columbia City, while Eagles coach Brett Fox is 4-7 overall. Fox lost his first meeting, 42-21, in 2014 but bounced back that same year to top New Haven 7-3 in sectional play; one of two sectional games between the two in the last nine seasons.
During OTH’s five seasons, the series sits at 3-3 overall. Columbia City won the regular season game three times in that stretch – 2018, 2020 and 2022. New Haven’s wins were in 2019, 2021 and 2018’s sectional matchup. As a testament to how balanced this series has been of late, during six meetings over the past five seasons, Columbia City leads the scoring 128-122.
Last season, New Haven was the first test to see how much of a real deal that Columbia City, the eventual NE8 champs, were. As it turned out, Columbia City proved it was the squad to beat with a 49-7 win, the most lopsided game in the past five seasons.
It was domination as Columbia City recovered all three of its onside kick attempts, amassed 486 yards of total offense and held the Bulldogs offense in check other than a 71-yard strike to Mylan Graham on their first play from scrimmage.
Columbia City used a whole host of guys to carry the ball for over 350 total yards and the victory on its way to an eventual NE8 title.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Stratton Fuller of Columbia City could challenge for the mantle of the conference’s top pass catcher. He has caught 12 of Columbia City’s 19 completions and seven of those have been for touchdowns. Look at Fuller’s consistency, where his longest reception is just 25 yards but he is averaging 20.5 yards per catch. The Eagles know how to get it to the junior and at the right time. It spreads out their offensive possibilities well.
Tre Bates of New Haven has been far more significant than people have given him credit for. New Haven has really executed balance in its offense. In five games, Bates has averaged 8.5 yards per carry and 95.2 yards. Just when opposing defenses worry about the pass game, Bates will truck his way down the field. And if you get within 10 yards of the end zone, his power is hard to offset.
KEY FOR COLUMBIA CITY – CONTEST EVERY PASS
It didn’t take long last year in this matchup for Donovan Williams to hook up with Mylan Graham for a 71-yard touchdown for New Haven’s only score in the game. Graham caught seven more passese, but totaled just 56 yards on those catches. Common sense would dictate that the Eagles have eyes on how to try and relegate Graham to being just a pass catcher and not a scorer. Look at it almost how Warsaw detained NorthWood’s Nitro Tuggle last Friday. He put up big yardage but was held out of the end zone. No, you don’t want to give Graham the catches, but you know how to try and negate his speed.
One thing easier said than done though is to slow all of the Bulldogs’ receivers. James Hardy IV is coming off a terrific Week 5 and Ajani Washington did not exist in the Bulldog offense a season ago. Last fall, outside of Graham’s catches, New Haven had just three other pass completions, all to Hardy, for 30 yards.
Columbia City has notched seven interceptions this season while not facing any receivers quite like New Haven’s lineup. Cohen Payne and Gavin Smith each have two picks, while Fuller will be critical in trying to offset New Haven with his own high-end athletic play.
KEY FOR NEW HAVEN – GET AT BRADBERRY
When opposing quarterbacks have time to find their groove, teams are able to move the ball against the Bulldogs. We’ve obviously seen that most against Leo and even then, New Haven was able to pick up a win. The Bulldogs are going to want to force Columbia City’s relatively inexperienced quarterback into some tough throws.
Ten of Bradberrry’s 18 completions (on 31 attempts) have gone for touchdowns, so the Eagles have clearly been able to pick and choose when to throw the ball with junior Grayson Bradberry. He has a a 58 percent completion rating and has thrown three picks, but the Bulldogs are averaging 1.2 sacks and 1.6 interceptions per contest.
If New Haven can invade the backfield, it will help force Bradberry’s hand and will obviously help slow the run game of the Eagles, who average nine yards per carry and 298 yards on the ground per game.
Check back for Blitz’s picks on Thursday to find out!