Why this was big: The opening game of the ESPN High School Football Kickoff featured an opportunity for the nation to get a peek at perhaps the top high school quarterback in the nation, Elite 11 finalist and Indiana commit Gunner Kiel out of Columbus East (Columbus, Ind.). Kiel, a 6-4, 215 pounder, was coming off a subpar performance in his opener, going just 4-for-17 for 44 yards. For the two teams, it’s the renewal of a crosstown rivalry that has been hotly contested in recent years. North pounded East a year ago, 42-21, and the teams have split their past 10 regular season meetings.
What went down: In a tremendous offensive shootout, the lead changed hands eight times before Columbus North finally took control late thanks to a key interception of Kiel and then held on for a 45-40 victory. The two offenses did it in different ways, with Columbus North running for over 300 yards and controlling the clock while East fought back with big chunks in the passing game. The outcome was not decided until Christian Williams of North recovered an East onside kick attempt with 42 seconds left.
Turning point: With 3:52 remaining in the fourth quarter and North having just re-taken the lead at 38-34, Kiel made his lone mistake of the game, trying to force a throw on a corner route that was deflected by North safety Taylor Summa and then intercepted by Nick Oliver. Jesse Tompkins scored from 16 yards out on the ensuing possession to put North up 45-34 with under two minutes remaining and make the outlook very bleak for the East Olympians.
Made a name for himself – Columbus North running back Jesse Tompkins: The 5-8, 175 pound junior running back was held to -3 yards on six carries in North’s opener, a 58-17 loss to state-power Carmel, but broke out in a big way Friday night, rushing 19 times for 192 yards and two second half touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs’ ground attack. While he might not develop into a major recruit, Tompkins showed great lateral agility and a good burst, and should be a bellcow for North to rely on for the next two seasons.
What it means: Despite the loss, Indiana fans should be very excited about the future of Hoosier football with Gunner Kiel at the helm. The signal caller displayed great touch on his deep ball, showed good pocket presence and tremendous toughness in battling all night long. The numbers were impressive in the end – 14-of-24 for 399 yards and two touchdowns with the one interception, and he also added a touchdown on the ground for good measure. Neither of these teams have the look of a strong state contender in Indiana, but this was a wildly entertaining offensive game that showcased all the strong suites of one of the nation’s top prep quarterbacks.
HALFTIME POST -Columbus East 20, Columbus North 17
It's halftime at the opener of the ESPN High School Football Kickoff, where Columbus East (Columbus, Ind.) leads Columbus North (Columbus, Ind.), 20-17.
For Elite 11 finalist and Indiana-bound QB Gunner Kiel, what a difference a week makes. After struggling in the Olympians' opener, going just 4-of-17 for 44 yards passing for two touchdowns in a 28-7 win over Greenwood (Greenwood, Ind.), Kiel has been dynamic with the deep ball in the first half tonight, hitting 4-of-6 attempts for a whopping 187 yards and a touchdown.
Kiel came out with guns blazing, finding Luke Hampton on the game's opening play for 63 yards, and East punched it in two plays later with Andrew Wilson going over from nine yards out. The Kiel-to-Hampton connection struck again just five minutes later, as Kiel found Hampton on play-action deep down the middle for an 80-yard touchdown to give East a 13-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
After that, both teams settled in, and North's gameplan of controlling the ball on the ground has been mostly effective, as the Bulldogs have dominated time of possession through the first half. North drove late in the first half into field goal range and junior Joseph Gedeon converted a 32-yard attempt as time expired to pull the visiting Bulldogs within 20-17 at the break.
The key to this game in the second half looks to be the big plays of the Columbus East offense. If the Olympians continue to get chunks of yardage in the passing game from Kiel, they figure to be tough to stop, but if North can control the tempo of the game with their ground attack and get a stop or two as they did late in the second quarter, the Bulldogs have a strong chance to beat their cross-town rivals for a second straight season.