Columbus High's big play ability and fourth-down defense proved to be the difference in Friday's 40-14 road win at North Platte.
The Bulldogs out gained the Discoverers on the ground 307-288, held the ball for almost 11 minutes more and ran 21 more plays, but when it came down to big plays and big moments, Columbus was just better.
CHS had five plays of more than 20 yards, returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown and came up with stops on four North Platte fourth-down attempts. Perhaps the most critical of those was the first when the Bulldogs held the ball for over 7 and 1/2 minutes of the first quarter but came away empty.
Columbus only ran three plays in the first because of that long time of possession but forced a punt on North Platte's second drive and took that punt to the house on Garrett Esch's 82-yard return.
That big play set in motion what became a 33-0 Columbus lead before North Platte finally avoided the shutout with a fourth-quarter score.
All 14 North Platte points and 160 of its total yards came over the final 12 minutes when the game was already decided.
Columbus improves to 2-0 and returns home next week for a Homecoming matchup with Elkhorn.
"They did a good of keeping the ball away in the first quarter, going three yards, four yards, inching towards first downs. But once Garrett broke that long one, our guys got pretty excited, got jacked up and we really got things moving after that offensively," coach Craig Williams said.
Joey Braasch made it 13-0 on a 6-yard run capping an eight play drive later in the second for a two-score halftime lead. Esch caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from CJ Fleeman to start the second and a 20-0 advantage.
Christian Dyhrkopp then scored back-to-back touchdowns capping two four-play drives that took less than two minutes apiece.
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It was a 33-0 lead when North Platte's Blake Vaughn scored in a long 55-yard touchdown with 8:18 to go in the fourth. Columbus answered right away on Ernest Hausmann's 43-yard score. An 11-play Bulldog drive finished the scoring with a touchdown and 2:48 showing on the clock.
But all of it could be traced back to the first quarter when North Platte faced a fourth-and-short, jumped offside then saw the drive end when Columbus came up with its first big stop of the game.
Our defensive coaches talk all the time about making them take snaps. It's high school football. Eventually, somebody's got to make a mistake," Williams said. "They had an illegal procedure penalty then stepped up and stopped them on fourth down.
"Our defense just kept coming up with stops like that."
Braasch finished with 13 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown, Esch carried eight times for 60, Landon Thompson caught one pass for 53 and Fleeman was 4 of 6 through the air for 99 yards.
Mason Moore led defensively with eight unassisted and nine assisted tackles.
"We were consistently getting about 5, 6, 7 yards a carry on the ground, and then we hit them with a couple play actions. One went for a long touchdown pass. Those kids, those athletes out there making those plays, that made the difference in the game," Williams said.
"2-0 is 2-0. This is the type of game we kind of expected to come out and play. We were a lot cleaner, we didn't have a lot of penalties and didn't have any turnovers. When we play a clean football game like that, we're going to be a very solid football team."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.