By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Ends, modern author C. JoyBell C. penned, are not bad things, they just mean that something else is about to begin. So from that standpoint, the conclusion of Bedford North Lawrence’s 2019 season heralds the beginning of 2020.
Every season begins with hope, with expectations of success, with a fresh outlook. Every season ends, except for the fortunate few who win state championships, with some level of disappointment. For many, it’s the finality of a career, leaving only memories to embellish with age.
BNL came into this campaign expecting some rebuilding pains, having lost so much from the 8-3 team that preceded this one. From a record standpoint, the 3-7 ending looks like slippage, although not as much when a .500 mark was the realistic goal.
Could it have been better? Certainly, until injuries took a toll on a roster without depth. Could it have been worse? If that vote had been taken after the loss to Madison in Week 4, definitely. When the dust settled, the Stars were playing their best for the postseason.
“Realistically, with what we had in terms of experience and numbers, if we stayed healthy, we felt a .500 season was within reach,” BNL coach Steve Weber said. “We thought we could make a nice run in the tournament, with Columbus East out of the way, and we were playing well at the end of the year.
“I don’t know I’ve ever been through a stranger year because of the emotions going up and down, with the injuries, but the kids didn’t let that effect them. They came to work to get better, they wanted to compete every game when most teams would have hung it up. We could have rolled over but we didn’t. I was proud of them for that.”
The Stars were difficult to define. Three games were second-half blowouts with the mercy-rule running clock. BNL suffered the humiliating one-point loss to Madison. Yet the Stars also won two games in unexpected fashion, going on the road to stun Seymour, rallying from a 20-point deficit to conquer Jeffersonville, and they were within a score of Floyd Central late in the sectional semifinal.
“Wins and losses, and I’m not blaming anything, but it was hard to make progress with the injuries (season-enders to starters Reagan Bowman, Justice Woods and Ben Cosner, multiple-game absences to Skyler Bates and James Underwood),” Weber said. “It was taking a step forward and two back. I didn’t think we were going anywhere.”
BNL had moments. The Stars slammed Jennings County, stunned the Owls when Justice Woods grabbed a game-winning touchdown pass with 16 seconds left, battled back from three scores down to burn the Red Devils, and battled the Highlanders deep into the fourth quarter in the sectional clash.
Dalton Nikirk threw for 1,516 yards (including a career-best 291 in the sectional) and 14 TDs, Derek Hutchens caught 29 passes for 635 yards and 5 TDs, and Bates missed three games but still led the team in rushing and toughness yards.
BNL’s 44-30 loss to Floyd was the end for 19 seniors. What does that mean for the beginning of 2020? The Stars have a lot of work to do.
Graduation will take a huge toll. BNL will lose 9 of 11 starters on offense, which means the triple-option attack will start from scratch. “It wipes us out,” Weber said.
On the other side, BNL was, in a word, porous on defense. The Stars allowed a program-record 34.8 points per game, surrendered 2,154 rushing yards (6.7 per carry), and opposing quarterbacks were an astounding 119-of-176 passing (67.6 percent). BNL gave up 49 touchdowns.
Those numbers are disappointing because BNL did emphasize defensive improvement, devoting the entire spring practice period to that side. It did not translate.
“Our offensive system allows us to move the ball, to compete,” Weber said. “Defense, you just have to be able to play, to tackle and shed blocks, to get to the ball. We have to create aggressive kids with the killer mentality that creates good teams.
“We have to get meaner, stronger. We have to get into the weight room and increase our strength. That’s something I preach, but I struggle to get them to buy in. We’ve got to get stronger and faster. We have to have guys in the middle to control the running game.”
The future rests with 33 freshmen, with the combined middle school program, with the willingness to pay the price for improvement. BNL has still won only one sectional title in school history.