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"We'll be ready to play. I'll be very shocked if we're not," stated Bellmont football coach Rick Burkhalter as his Braves prepare to meet the state's No. 1 3A team, Eastbrook, Friday night at Bob Worthman Stadium.
A year ago, the Braves apparently were not ready for the Eastbrook style in a stunning 34-0 loss in the sectional title game. Eastbrook later lost to eventual state champ West Lafayette.
The Panthers come in at 9-0, averaging 54 points a game while yielding 11.5. The closest game Eastbrook had was a 37-13 victory over South Adams in the season opener, and that game was close at half. In the last six weeks, the Panthers have given up a total of 34 points while scoring over 60 three times, including a 63-14 win over 6-3 Oak Hill last week.
"They are fundamentally sound in what they do," said Burkhalter.
"They have basically a 2A schedule and they've crushed it. But you could have said that last year about them, but they came in here and dominated."
The Braves come in at 4-5. What seemed like a very promising season started to go south with the Braves leading Columbia City in the second period. Senior QB Forrest Fullenkamp went down with a torn ligament in his knee. Cornerback Brooks Faurote has missed the second half of the season with a shoulder injury, and all-time leading Bellmont rusher Daniel Meyer has been slowed with a sore ankle for three weeks.
"I don't know how many teams have been through what we've been through this year, and now we've lost D.J. Wilder (senior linebacker with an ACL. Daniel's banged up, but even if he has to drag it, he's going to play. We're going to run him," promised Burkhalter.
Meyer carried the ball only twice last week and limped off the field. He has been the focus of Bellmont's bull-rushing offense this year, compiling 1,285 yards with 15 touchdowns. The Braves average 300 yards per game rushing, tops in the tough NHC.
Senior halfback Ryley Hankenson has over 600 yards rushing and QB Brian Fullenkamp had eclipsed 100 yards two weeks ago.
Bellmont was second in the league against the rush, yielding 130 yards per game. Pass defense problems put Bellmont at fourth overall in defense in the NHC.
John Mahlan, who has turned in a strong performance subbing for Meyer the last few weeks, will start at middle linebacker for the Braves, but Meyer will play some defense. Cody Walters and Landon Baker will share outside linebacker duties as replacements for Wilder, who injured his knee last week versus East Noble.
"Our starters haven't played in the fourth quarter all year in conference games," admitted Eastbrook Coach Jeff Adamson.
"We're having a good year, but the rest of our conference (Central Indiana) was very young, so we have really not been tested."
"We followed Bellmont's scores and watched them play at Lucas Oil, so we're fully aware of the kind of player Meyer is. He was a load last year, but looks even stronger and more powerful. If their offensive line is young, they don't show it," said Adamson.
The coach feels that a real key to his high-powere offense has been the play of quarterback Tanner Day. "He has been throwing the ball extremely well and has made some good decisions when reading the option. Max Widmeyer (350 yards) and Colton Benedict (665, 9.4) are having great seasons carrying the ball."
Day has his 53 of 81 for 1,214 yards, but 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions, adding 355 yards on 34 carries. Widmeyer has 17 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns. Jody Gibbs has 9 catches for 282 yards and six scores. Boone Searles has 15 catches for 292 yards. Benendict has nine snags for 229 yards.
"The kids have been concentrating this week and are prepared to follow the game plan. We intend to corret the mistakesthat we made when we played them last year," said Burkhalter.
Too tight of a defensive set led to some long runs a year ago for Eastbrook. The Braves have made adjustments. "I think our kids have been in toon. But you can put any game plan out there you want to and they've still got to do it," said the BHS coach.
Day also does the kicking, hitting 53 of 60 P.A.T. boots, plus all three of his fieldgoals. He averages 37.8 yards per punt and 50.4 yards per kickoff.
Keys on the defense are end twins Chase Thompson (5 sacks, 52 tackles) and Cody Thompson (7 sacks, 57 tackles). Both are 6-1, and 180 pounds. Linebacker Gavin Pearson leads with 70 tackles and four sacks.
The winner of the Eastbrook-Bellmont game will take on the survivor of the Harding-Concordia game. On the other side in Sectional 19, Leo is at Norwell. The Lions are rated third in 3A. Blackford travels to Heritage.