In the post-game huddle at the 50-yard line of John H. Young Stadium following New Haven’s 21-7 win over Columbia City on Friday, Coach Kyle Booher gathered his team for some well-deserved praise.
Defensive Coordinator Kendrick Mullen then stepped to the forefront, directing the focus to a trio of attributes that, for the first time this season, were all achieved by the Bulldogs for a full four quarters.
Toughness. Effort. Discipline.
It took a lot of each to knock off the Eagles.
There was no doubt that New Haven entered this undefeated showdown riding high, but a 42-point rout at the hands of Columbia City had to be in the back of the players’ minds as well.
When the Eagles marched down the field on the opening drive of the game, the floodgates could have easily opened. Instead, New Haven’s defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs, the first of many key stops of an offense that was held to just 178 total yards and only 99 rushing yards, close to 150 yards less than Columbia City’s average.
Toughness also showed throughout the second half despite what was missing. After injuring his ankle in the second quarter, Mylan Graham saw limited action the rest of the game, including no playing time after halftime. Instead of losing faith with its star player sidelined, the Bulldogs rallied behind leaders like quarterback Donovan Williams and linebacker Korin Harris.
As for effort, it was there from the jump. Columbia City’s drives were long and grinding, challenging the New Haven defensive front. Time and again the Eagles ran their wishbone offense, full of counters and misdirections, and seemingly every time New Haven had a player in position to make a play. It centered on the linemen and linebackers – guys like Harris, James Hardy IV, Chris Stewart, Alex Hoffer – being disciplined and filling their gaps, as well as wrapping up consistently.
With the Eagles seemingly having the momentum hanging on to a 7-6 lead, it was Williams and the New Haven offense that went to work late in the third quarter. A key throw and catch on third down from Williams to Jamarcus Turner helped move the chains deep into Columbia City territory. Williams then threw another solid ball to Ajani Washington for a three-yard score, with Hardy IV hauling in the wild conversion throw to put the Bulldogs up 14-7.
And as for discipline? New Haven never lost it. It handed Columbia City three(!) first downs on penalties on the opening drive, yet never wilted. It had a pair of turnovers, both in plus territory. Yet the team never looked rattled.
For a full 48 minutes, the Bulldogs trusted the process and their skill, overcoming adversity as if it was the height not of mountains, but mere anthills.
“We had a lot of adversity (tonight),” said Coach Booher after the game. “Guys were getting hurt, had some that were dinged up. But the next guy played and you couldn’t tell the difference who was in there.”
So now New Haven sits at 6-0, with two of its biggest challengers in the league now in the rearview – Leo and Columbia City. Only East Noble remains, a trip to Kendallville set for Week 8.
But it’s OK to enjoy this one a bit longer. Much like the Leo game in which New Haven had to find the will to keep fighting after the Lions tied the game late, the Bulldogs found what it took to make the plays and down Columbia City, the fifth straight home victory over the Eagles.
Where does Coach Booher’s team go from here?
Like on Friday, it will come down to three things…
Confidence. Effort. Discipline.
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