For the first time since being bumped into Class 6-A, the ping-pong balls favored New Albany on Sunday night.
After getting paired with state power Center Grove the past two years, and suffering the consequences, the Bulldogs were awarded a home game – and the bracket opposite the top-ranked Trojans – when the Indiana High School Athletic Association announced the results of its blind draw for the all-inclusive state football tournaments.
Jeffersonville (4-4) will visit New Albany (3-5) for a Sectional 8 rematch on Oct. 23, while Center Grove (8-0) will travel to Columbus North (6-2). The final is set for Oct. 30.
New Albany got crushed during its trips to Center Grove to conclude the last two seasons. Now the Bulldogs will face their rivals once again after dropping a 25-12 decision to the Red Devils in the rain on Oct. 2.
“You don’t want to be afraid of playing the good teams, but it’s certainly an easier draw,” first-year New Albany coach Sean Coultis said. “Obviously Jeffersonville will present its own challenges. They’re a good team as well.”
The Red Devils scored two touchdowns on special teams to win the first meeting at Buerk Field. Michael Lively returned a fumbled punt snap 43 yards for a score and Isaiah Blanton returned a kickoff 79 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
“We’re definitely confident,” Jeffersonville interim coach Alfonzo Browning said. “We hope to get them on a dry night. I’m pretty sure we’ll be ready. We see it as another challenge.”
Coultis, a former assistant coach in Illinois, will have to adjust to the unique timing of the tournament pairings. New Albany still has a regular-season clash with Floyd Central this week, and Jeffersonville will face Jennings County.
“Honestly it’s really awkward,” Coultis said. “I’m focused on Floyd Central, another rival, so it’s a unique position to be in. I’m sure playing them will be a different animal. It won’t be an easy game.”
In Class 5-A, the IHSAA set up another rematch as Bedford North Lawrence (4-4) will visit Floyd Central (4-4) in the first round on Oct. 30. The Stars already own a 28-21 victory at Floyd Central on Oct.2
“It’s always good to get a second chance against a team that beat you,” Floyd Central coach Brian Glesing said. “Our kids will be fired up, but it will be a tough game because Bedford is on a roll and we are struggling. We have to get it going.”
Floyd Central is currently mired in a three-game losing streak. The loss to the Stars can be blamed on fumbles and BNL quarterback Brayden Tidd. Three big plays rallied the Stars from a 14-7 deficit in the fourth quarter. Tidd connected with Austin Jovanovich for a 59-yard touchdown, and the Stars recovered two fumbles that were converted into quick scores early in the fourth quarter.
Tidd was 10 of 12 passing (in the misery of a constant, cold rain) for 174 yards and three touchdowns, while Brandon Striegel had 148 yards rushing for the Highlanders.
“It’s fresh in our minds, what they do, and I’m sure they’re thinking the same way,” BNL coach Steve Weber said. “Both teams are familiar with each other. If you look at the sectional, it’s pretty wide open for anybody, really.”
Evansville North, 1-7 under former BNL coach Bret Szabo, will visit Castle (4-4) in the opposite bracket of Sectional 16. Castle clobbered the Huskies 51-0 last week.
“We have to worry about New Albany first,” Glesing said. “There’s no hurry. We have an extra week of practice and it won’t be totally new prep. We know what everybody is going to do.”