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Columbus High will play its first home game in 325 days on Thursday night when Lincoln North Star comes to town for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Granted, with only four or five home games per season on a high school football calendar, time in between home contests is a reality of life. But for the Discoverers, there's been an especially long wait throughout the program.
Whether it's the varsity squad, JV or freshmen, Columbus hasn't played in front of the home fans at all this season. That waiting comes to an end in a second straight CHS Thursday night affair following last week's 28-14 road win over rival Norfolk.
But if there's any sense of a let down or for finally being at home or any extra distractions that might come with extra festivities, like a motorcycle escort to the field, North Star is the perfect opponent to grab Columbus' attention.
CHS says it gave one away in Lincoln last year when the Discoverers fell into a 24-3 halftime hole. Columbus made three trips inside the North Star 10 before halftime of last year's loss but produced just three points.
The Discoverers also couldn't get off the field on third down. That was never more apparent than in the second half when the defense didn't allow any more points but also couldn't stop a key third down that allowed the Gators to run off the rest of the clock. Columbus suffered its first loss of the year 24-19.
"Once we stopped turning the ball over, we jumped right back in the football game before we ran out of time at the end," coach Craig Williams recalled. "Our captains talked about it. This is one we gave away, and we're not going to let that happen. We've got a chance to redeem ourselves."
North Star is 1-2 following a win over Hastings in Week 0 then losses to Lincoln High and Lincoln Northeast. The Discoverers, Navigators, Links and Rockets are in the midst of what might be considered a four-team round-robin tournament that started in Week 1. Columbus sees all three over the next three weeks although Lincoln High is the only district opponent.
The Gators graduated 33 seniors but utilize the same concepts on offense and defense. Through three games, they've averaged a balanced offense with just about 140 yards through the air and on the ground.
North Star threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns on Columbus last season, but that quarterback has since graduated. The new guy under center, Zach Fredenberg, is completing 48% of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Sophomore Daniel Johnson has carried most of the load on the ground with 49 carries, 252 yards and two scores. Dylan Hallett and Jace Elliott have been Fredenberg's favorite targets at 12 catches apiece.
Defensively, three players have double digit tackles and North Star has generated 16 tackles for loss.
Columbus heads into the game seeking to carry over the physical brand of running the ball it found last week at Norfolk. Northeast pounded North Star to a 310-yard rushing total last week.
"We've got to keep building on the physical part. We've always tried to be a physical football team, but as we move forward we've got to open up the offense a little bit more," Williams said. "(Quarterback) Brody Mickey had a nice game throwing the football, but we've got to get him more runs and get him into some of those run-pass option looks and give him some of those decisions."
The Columbus defense was just as physical as the offense in the win over Norfolk. The Panthers only points came as the result of a blocked punt recovered at the 1 and a long drive late in the fourth with mostly backups on the field.
"We felt like Omaha Central was more physical than us in Week 1. That was a challenge we took and our coaches took in making sure we were in the proper alignment and that we were going to match and exceed Norfolk's physicality," Williams said. "I think the kids realize that when they play like that, good things are going to happen."
Columbus plays the next two at home and five of the final seven on the schedule at Pawnee Park. Thursday's game is on KLIR 101.1 FM and NewsChannel Nebraska.
"We're playing three schools in our new conference and we're still trying to get a foothold in this new conference. To continue to gain respect within the HAC, you get to play three HAC schools coming up," Williams said. "It's an opportunity to prove we belong there and we belong in Class A playing three Lincoln schools. It's a big deal for us."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.