Orange is the old black in Hoosier Hills Conference football.
For 11 years, Columbus East has been the Black Plague, wiping out conference competition. The Olympians have 59 consecutive league games, and only one team has come within one score of an upset during that span. Fear spreads like a disease.
“When teams in this league see orange and white, there is that intimidation,” Floyd Central coach Brian Glesing said. “There is that mental factor that goes into play.”
The Highlanders are the next challengers. Floyd Central, 4-1 and winners of four straight games, will visit Class 5-A No.3 East (5-0) in a battle for the league lead on Friday night. Both are undefeated after three conference games.
Most of these “showdowns” with East are totally anticlimactic. Last season, the Olympians allowed only seven touchdowns to seven HHC foes, and the average margin was 56 points. Almost all that damage was done by halftime. This year, East has already outscored league foes 156-32.
How does East do it? The Olympians have had two Mr. Football winners in the last four years with quarterback Gunner Kiel (2011, now at the University of Cincinnati) and running back Markell Jones (2014, now at Purdue). Jones set state records with 3,536 yards and 60 touchdowns last season.
East doesn’t have that kind of superstar talent now, but it hasn’t mattered.
“Anytime you lose somebody like that, it’s going to be an adjustment,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “We haven’t changed our scheme at all. But Markell was so explosive, so we don’t have as many long plays as we did when he was around. He was a special kid.”
Gaddis has altered little. Senior running back Steven O’Neal (588 yards, 9 touchdowns) stepped into the Jones void. When he missed a game with an injury, sophomore Jamon Hogan was that night’s star. Returning starting quarterback K.J. McCarter has missed action with a hamstring injury, and sophomore Josh Major has directed the offense.
“They’re very simple offensively and defensively, and that’s the sign of a good team,” Glesing said. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week. They do what they do, and it makes it difficult for opposing teams to defend because they are very good at what they do.”
Floyd Central could be the one HHC team to stand up and fight back. The Highlanders have no other choice. They are built around a power running game. They will not try finesse or trickery.
“Coach Glesing is going to do what he does,” Gaddis said. “He will run the power pitch until you stop it, and he might run it when you do. He has a scheme, he knows what he wants to get done, and his kids buy into it. It’s not an offense of the week, he has a program he tries to run. We have a lot of respect for the way they do things.
“They just come at you. They will control the clock, run the football and play defense. That’s a good plan. We can’t let them get into that plan.”
Most plans either backfire or get discarded when East starts to roll. Until they are dethroned, until someone finally ends a decade of dominance, the Olympians will maintain an aura of invincibility.
“It’s been a long while,” Glesing said. “Is it possible? Sure it is. But it’s a long shot for all of us. They are beatable, but we have to play a perfect game and they have to have an off night. Hopefully we can get rid of that stigma and put up a good fight.”
The Highlanders have already faced a powerhouse, falling to Louisville Male 41-0 in the opener. They now have momentum following a thrilling 30-28 victory at Jeffersonville last week. None of Floyd’s league wins have been easy, and this certainly won’t be.
“We’re starting to click here and there, we’re getting some problems worked out,” Glesing said. “We’re excited about where we are, playing for first place in the conference. We’re excited about the opportunity to play one of the top teams in the state.”
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org