By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – After an unpredictable season of constant adjustments and injury turbulence, Bedford North Lawrence has a second chance for a smoother approach to an elusive, yet still obtainable, goal.
The Stars, after a week to recharge and finalize, will start the postseason on Friday night with a journey to Floyd Central for a rematch with the Sectional 16 favorites. The No.12 Highlanders (7-2) earned that designation with their regular-season success against the small, familiar field of Hoosier Hills Conference foes.
BNL (3-6) doesn’t mind the underdog role, in fact embraces it. But there is no fear factor after battling the Highlanders on even ground before falling 29-21 on a rainy night in early October.
“My worry was getting trounced, and this would have been for nothing,” BNL coach Steve Weber said. “But the guys know we can compete with them. That’s definitely helped.”
That does not mean BNL doesn’t have substantial work ahead.
Floyd Central features one of the state’s premier running backs. Wenkers Wright, who grew up on the rough streets of Haiti before adoption brought him to Southern Indiana, is seventh in the state with 1,713 rushing yards, among the leaders with 20 touchdowns and an amazing 9.6 per carry average. He’s a big-time, big-play breaker, as BNL can certainly attest.
During the first clash, Wright was held in check – most of the time. On 19 attempts, he averaged a mere 2.5 per run. But on the other two, he dashed 50-plus yards, the latter a 55-yard bolt for the clinching touchdown late in the third quarter.
“I thought defensively we were pretty good,” Weber said. “We let two big ones go on blown assignments, and you can’t do that because the kid is good enough to go.”
What will change, or must change, in the rematch?
First, the weather. It should not be a factor, other than the typical November chill. The first clash was played in constant rain, leading to wet-n-wild snaps on punts that set up scores.
“We’re concentrating on ourselves, things like ball security and special teams,” FC coach James Bragg said. “You don’t know what we will get. Both teams played well the last time, given the conditions.
“We’re not going to change too much now. I hate the bye week, because we have momentum (three straight wins) and our kids are chomping at the bit.”
Second, the running game. BNL didn’t have one, managing only five first downs and 89 yards on the ground. Skyler Bates had 39 of those on one play, a third-quarter TD that gave the Stars a 21-19 lead midway through the third quarter.
“We have to get the ball moving offensively,” Weber said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a few times when we didn’t convert. So we have to do better. Our blocking was bad. We just have to move the ball.
“They stalemated us too much and we didn’t have much running room for Skyler. We need to get that going. That evens everything up for us. It all starts for us up front. If we get a stalemate, we count that as a loss. We have to get some movement. If we don’t we’re going to struggle.”
BNL quarterback Dalton Nikirk threw for 167 yards, including a 64-yard bomb to Derek Hutchens and a 10-yard TD pass to Tabin Stillions. On the opposite side, FC quarterback Tristan Polk was almost perfect, hitting 13 of 15 passes.
Those will be the marquee players again. But for BNL, staging the upset will come down to the grunt work, winning the wars up front to create running lanes on one side and close them on the other. Weber spent most of the season plugging holes created by injuries on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary. He believes the Stars are now in their best alignment.
“I think we are,” he said. “We can’t adjust personnel any more. We have everyone where we need them. We’ve got our best guys out there in the right spots. Now it’s just a matter of getting it done.”
BNL is chasing its second sectional title, having won in 2011. Floyd is looking for its first since 2009. The winner will face either New Albany (4-5) or Jeffersonville in the final on Nov. 8. The Red Devils won that regular-season clash 32-13 on Sept. 6.
IHSAA SECTIONAL 16
BNL at Floyd Central
Kickoff: Friday, 7 p.m.
Records: BNL 3-6; Floyd Central 7-2, ranked No.12 in 5A
Coaches: Steve Weber, 31-40 in 7th year at BNL (159-69 in 20th season overall); James Bragg, 12-7 in second year at Floyd Central
Series: Floyd Central leads 27-23
Sagarin ratings: BNL 42.05; Floyd Central 57.70
Last meeting: On Oct. 11 at Weigleb Stadium, the Highlanders rallied in the second half for a 29-21 victory in the rain. Wenkers Wright ran for 148 yards and a touchdown for Floyd, while Dalton Nikirk threw for one score and ran for another for the Stars.
Game notes: The winner will face either New Albany (4-5) or Jeffersonville (3-6) in the sectional final. BNL will host the championship game if it defeats FC. BNL won its only sectional title in 2011, while the Highlanders claimed titles in 1998 and 2009.