Highlanders to vie for first title since 2009 on Friday
Zach Rodgers always had aspirations of becoming a standout football player at Floyd Central High School.
An area native and a product of Galena Elementary, Floyds Knobs Elementary and Highland Hills Middle School, Rodgers was raised a Highlander. He grew up idolizing Floyd Central running back Kyle Bramble, who led the state in rushing yards (2,875) and rushing touchdowns (47) as a senior in 2011.
“I looked up to him,” said Rodgers, a fullback for the Highlanders this season. “I try to follow in his footsteps and make big plays every game, put up big numbers. That was always my goal.”
Six weeks ago, though, Rodgers’ status for the season, and possibly the beginning of his senior year, was uncertain, according to the 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior.
On his first touch at home against Columbus East on Sept. 23, Rodgers received a handoff and was met by a group of Olympians by near the line of scrimmage. His right leg bent awkwardly behind a Columbus East defender, prompting a stoppage of play. He was helped off the field after a splint was placed on the injury.
Rodgers was diagnosed with a severely bruised tibia, a hyper-extended knee and an ankle sprain – a favorable verdict after sustaining what initially appeared to be a serious injury. After keeping weight off the injury for two days, Rodgers was able to walk in a boot. One week later, Rodgers was back on the field, primed for production.
“Once I was back and able to play,” Rodgers said, “I just ran every play like it was my last.”
Before Rodgers’ injury, the junior had rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 31 attempts in five games. In three games since his return, Rodgers has tallied 224 yards and four touchdowns – both team highs in that span – on only 16 carries.
In last week’s sectional opener at Bedford North Lawrence, Rodgers led the team with 86 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. He gave the Highlanders their first lead late in the third quarter of a 40-34 win.
“Zach’s had some big plays. He’s done a great job blocking and running the ball,” Floyd Central coach Brian Glesing said. “(His return) was timely. We needed it.”
With the win over BNL, Floyd Central (7-3) advanced to a Sectional 16 championship meeting against Castle (7-3) at Ron Weigleb Stadium on Friday. The Knights have beaten the Highlanders in Floyd Central’s past two trips to the sectional title game – a 56-12 decision last year and a 45-44 overtime finish in 2010.
The Highlanders’ most recent sectional crown, though, came in 2009 by way of a win over Castle in a matchup that sets up similarly to Friday’s showdown. Floyd Central entered with an identical record and won 42-32. Those Highlanders scored five times on the ground.
These Highlanders will look to rely on its running game in an effort to keep Castle’s offense off the field on Friday, a ground-and-pound mentality they’ve embodied throughout the season — one that requires timeliness, much like Rodgers’ return.
“If we can make them earn it, that helps your morale. … That’s the mentality we have to take,” Glesing said. “Obviously, we’d like to force punts on three-and-outs. That’s the goal, but realistically they’ve got an explosive offense, so we’ve got to do a good job of not allowing the big play.”
Rodgers said Glesing has given his team tape of the 2009 sectional title game to watch in preparation for Friday. Bramble rushed for more than 100 yards in the win, a performance the junior wouldn’t mind replicating.
Floyd Central vs. Castle, Sectional 16
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Ron Weigleb Stadium
Records: Floyd Central (7-3), Castle (7-3)
Rankings: Castle No. 10 in 5A; Floyd Central T-No. 14
Series: Castle leads 5-1 dating back to 1993
Last meeting: Castle, 56-12 (Oct. 19, 2012, sectional)
The pick: Floyd Central, 35-28