By the time Whiteland figured out Columbus East’s new defensive alignment Friday night, the Warriors already were behind by two touchdowns.
Whiteland played the unbeaten Olympians even the rest of the game, but that two-touchdown margin ended up being the difference. East earned a rematch with New Palestine with a 28-14 sectional semifinal victory.
“Unfortunately, we got behind 14-0 before we were able to kind of settle in and figure out what we needed to do, and that’s a testimony to (East),” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said. “They started fast.
“We didn’t start as fast as we would like to, and East did.”
The Olympians (11-0), ranked No. 2 in Class 5A, advance to host the top-ranked Dragons (10-0) in Friday’s sectional final. The teams have met in Class 4A semistate battles the past two years, with East winning at home in 2013 and New Palestine prevailing at home last season. Both winners won state titles the following week.
After turning back the 5A No. 6 Warriors (7-3), East coach Bob Gaddis told his team that it was the best it had played all season from start to finish.
“I told them before the game that it was our best week of preparation, and I hoped they transferred it to the field,” Gaddis said. “We played a great game.”
The Olympians got on the board late in the first quarter. Taking over at the Whiteland 38, East needed only three plays, with quarterback Josh Major bouncing off three tacklers while taking it the final 22 yards.
The Olympians then stopped the Warriors on downs and turned it into another score. Major went in from the 7, and East led 14-0 with 8:16 left in the first half.
“It took us a little bit to recognize the defensive adjustments that they made,” Fisher said. “Alignment and responsibility-wise, they did something a little different than they had done in the past. The first quarter is always a game of adjustments, and unfortunately, we got behind early while we were making those adjustments.”
Major added his third touchdown of the first half, a 2-yard plunge with 4:03 left.
“We really dominated the first half,” Gaddis said. “We knew they’d come back at us in the second half, but I thought our kids did a great job.”
Whiteland looked like it might get on the board before halftime when Jacob Ballain lined up for a 29-yard field goal with 7 seconds left. But after a bad snap, Ballain was thrown for a 1-yard loss as the half came to a close.
“I wouldn’t call it a turning point, but it would have been pretty big for us to put some points on the board there,” Fisher said. “We’ve had a great field goal operation all season long, and we just had a bad exchange.”
The Warriors finally scored on a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Jace Carpenter on their first drive of the second half. The score stayed 21-7 until East’s Steven O’Neal scored on a 5-yard run — going airborne for the final three yards — with 2:55 left in the game.
Whiteland scored again 19 seconds later on a 4-yard pass from Carpenter to Dalton Lowry. The Warriors then attempted an onside kick, but the Olympians recovered and ran out the clock.
Major went 4-of-4 passing for 61 yards — all in the first half — and finished with 122 yards rushing on 28 carries. O’Neal led East with 168 yards on 33 carries.
The Olympians limited Carpenter to 5-of-14 passing for 93 yards and held the Warriors to 164 yards rushing on 38 carries.
“They wanted to run the football, and our guys did a great job of defending the run early,” Gaddis said.
Chris Richardson led Whiteland with 85 yards rushing on 11 carries and four catches for 69 yards.
“I think we were able to create some space that we wanted to on the perimeter,” Fisher said. “We weren’t able to stay on the blocks long enough, and a testament to East. I thought they did a good job of getting off blocks and keeping us off the perimeter. They won the game at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”