HOWARD — The East Knox Bulldogs perhaps reached the crossroads of their season in Friday evenings’ game against the Centerburg Trojans — and they handled it like champions.
The undefeated Bulldogs scored three times in the third quarter, including an 80-yard scoring run by Caleb Gallwitz on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, and went on to defeat the visiting Centerburg Trojans (4-3, 2-2 KMAC), 38-14, in Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference play.
The Bulldogs were having trouble moving the ball against the Trojans’ defense in the early going. Bulldogs’ quarterback Kadden Lester (15-of-25, 208 yards) connected on seven of his first 12 passes but for only 60 yards. In the meantime, the Trojans were able to key on East Knox running back Caleb Gallwitz (32 carries, 211 yards), who was held to 60 yards in the half. One of those passes from Lester was a 31-yard touchdown pass to Weston Melick in the second quarter.
“We went in after that first half and I said. ‘Hey, that wasn’t our best half of football. We’re playing a good football team,’” said East Knox coach Cody Reese. “With the mistakes we made, and hats off to Centerburg for the plays they were making, and they were doing a great job as well, but it was still tied. It was like it was 0-0. So I said, ‘We’ve been in this situation late in the season, and we lose. Who’s going to stand up and say ‘Enough’s enough,’ and do something about it. Those are the options we have, or we can sit around and whine about it.’”
The Trojans answered on the ensuing drive on a score by running back Donnell Marshall (14 rushes, 137 yards) to tie the game at 7.
“When you have two good football teams playing against each other, that’s the way it goes,” said Centerburg coach Andy Colella. “Our kids played hard from start to finish. I’m super proud of them for the way that they competed. You’ve got to give credit to East Knox. They’re a heck of a football team.”
The Bulldogs came out fired up in the second half. After Gallwitz’s big TD run to open the half, the Bulldogs stopped the Trojans and got the ball right back. Driving it down to the Centerburg 20, East Knox receiver Cade Leach scored on a Lester touchdown pass. Leach followed with a 22-yard field goal on the Bulldogs’ next possession, and with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, East Knox had opened up a 24-7 lead.
“We feel like we came out flat in the first half,” said East Knox lineman Dawson David. “Championship teams thrive in diversity, so we came together as a team. We accepted the challenge and we were successful in the second half.”
The difference for David was simple.
“We weren’t getting enough push, in my opinion,” David said. “The middle of the line accepted the challenge in the second half. Then, we started running the ball, and that was when the pass opened up for us.”
The Trojans caught a break late in the third quarter. Marshall intercepted a Lester pass and later scored on the ensuing Centerburg drive on a 22-yard touchdown run, shrinking the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-14. That, however, was all the noise that the Trojans could make. Centerburg quarterback Jack Gregory (12-for-21, 57 yards) was held to just 5-of-11 passing for 24 yards and an interception in the second half.
East Knox topped off the night with a pair rushing touchdowns by Gallwitz in the fourth quarter.
Despite knocking off the two biggest challengers in the KMAC in the past two weeks by a combined score of 72-14, Gallwitz and the rest of the Bulldogs are maintaining their focus. They have been 7-0 before, and they remember the bitter disappointment of the past two seasons. This year, they are just a little more mature.
“(Winning) is a great feeling, but to be honest, we haven’t played 10 games of the regular season yet,” said Gallwitz. “We still have several very good teams to play, and I guess we’re still focusing on one week at a time.”
NOTES: There has been a shake-up in the Division IV Region 22 state computer rankings. Seneca East, last week’s No. 1 team, lost to Carey, 26-20, and as a result, East Knox is expected to rise to the No. 1 position this week.