OSSIAN – Norwell is no stranger to comeback victories. The Class 3A No. 7 Knights came from 17 points down to beat East Noble in late September and then capped a stellar season with an even larger comeback win over Columbia City on Friday's Senior Night.
Trailing by three touchdowns just nine minutes into the game, Norwell never panicked, and quarterback Eli Riley led his team back with 283 yards and four total touchdowns in a 45-34 Knights victory, their sixth in a row.
“Being down big wasn't anything new to us,” Riley said. “We always felt that we were the better team and we kept that mentality, so we just had to make a few plays along there. Once it was 21-10, we knew we were back in it.”
The Knights (8-1) closed to within 21-10 in the second quarter when Max Ringger scored on a 10-yard touchdown run and Jace Chaney added a 30-yard field goal. Columbia City (6-3) answered right back, however, when quarterback Greg Bolt reared back and completed a 72-yard touchdown pass to wideout T.J. Bedwell.
It was the third touchdown catch of a dream half for Bedwell, who also had TD receptions of 58 and 96 yards and finished with five catches for 241 yards, plus an interception on defense.
With less than 90 seconds remaining before halftime, however, the Knights struck back when Riley found Bo Morgan on a broken play for a 14-yard touchdown and a 28-17 halftime deficit.
The second half was all Riley and Ringger, who had 31 carries for 164 yards. Riley zigzagged for a 21-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the second period and then had another adventurous 27-yard run on the next drive to set up Ringger's 3-yard scoring burst to give Norwell its first lead at 31-28.
“I feel like it's always been there,” Riley said of his vision. “I feel like I've always just enjoyed running the ball and I can see things and get around people.”
“I'm glad (Riley)'s on our team and not on another one,” Knights coach Josh Gerber added.
Columbia City, which lost its third straight game after a 6-0 start, briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter when Bolt found Hunter Herron in the corner of the end zone for a 10-yard score and a 34-31 margin. Bolt finished with 305 passing yards and four touchdowns and added a rushing score.
Norwell recaptured the advantage when Isaiah Brege went up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown and Riley made it a two-score game when he went around the left side for a 35-yard scoring run to make it 45-34. Brege sealed the victory when he picked off Bolt on the final Eagles possession of the night.
The victory caps a significant turnaround for the Knights, from 0-10 in 2016, Gerber's first season, to a second-place finish in the Northeast 8 this year. Their goal is a sectional title, but they know how far they've come.
“When we were in middle school, we saw this program at its lowest point,” Riley said. “Us upperclassmen, seniors especially, we decided that's not what we wanted to be and we wanted to return Norwell football to what it is and what it should be. We put in the work and we're seeing the rewards.”