COLUMBIA CITY – Norwell ended its regular season with a sixth straight victory Friday night, but it's already looking ahead.
The Class 3A No. 8 Knights scored in all three phases in a 23-13 victory at Columbia City in the teams' regular-season finale, securing a second consecutive runner-up finish in the Northeast 8 behind Leo.
"The way the defense played, the way the special teams did, it was a complete game for us," Knights coach Josh Gerber said. "It finishes out the regular season and and now the fun starts."
In talking to his team after the game, Gerber referred to the games that came to an end Friday as the "preseason."
"Eight and one is a good record," he told his players. "What we want starts now."
"We've made no bones about it," the sixth-year coached added. "The goal's been to win a sectional, since Day 1. That process has been going on every week, trying to get in position to do that, so now it takes a laser-like focus and we have to be ready to roll each week."
The Knights enter the state tournament with momentum after a victory over the Eagles (4-5) that was more difficult than most of their previous five wins, which had come by an average of 25.6 points.
The turning point in the game came midway through the second quarter. Columbia City had cut a 10-point deficit down to three at 10-7 with a ground-based drive that quarterback Greg Bolt finished off with a 3-yard touchdown up the middle.
Bolt ran 24 times for 134 yards and the score.
The Knights struck back immediately, however. Junior Drew Ringger fielded the kickoff at the 8-yard line, cut to his right and dashed through a massive hole, eventually finding the sideline and going 92 yards for a touchdown.
"I gotta give it to my blockers, it was all them," Ringger said. "It was a really good block and I just got to the outside."
When Columbia City got the ball back, it was the Norwell defense's turn to make a game-turning play. Defensive lineman Kyle Zeddis burst through the line and dragged Bolt down well behind the line of scrimmage. As Bolt fell, the ball came loose and deflected off the quarterback's foot, popping up in the air. Waiting to grab it and sprint the other way was Norwell's Trey Bodenheimer, who raced 25 yards to make it 23-7.
Josh Arntz added a 3-yard touchdown run around the left side for the Eagles in the fourth quarter, but a 2-point conversion failed and Columbia City missed a field goal from 42 yards in the final minute that could have made it a one-possession game.
Norwell's attention now turns to its sectional opener at Maconaquah on Friday, where the Knights will start their quest for their first sectional crown since 2014.
"All the games we've played, they matter, but not as much as the sectional games coming up," Ringger said.