After a back-and-forth first quarter, a Columbus special teams play to begin the second quarter turned the tide for the Discoverers.
After a run-heavy stalemate resulted in a scoreless tie after the first 12 minutes, Columbus playmaker Garrett Esch found a seam and returned a North Platte punt for a touchdown on the first play of the second period. That opened the door to what became 33-unanswered points from the Discoverers on the way to a 40-14 victory to put a damper on North Platte’s home opener on Friday at Bauer Field.
"Give credit to Columbus. They came out and played well tonight and we did not," North Platte head coach Todd Rice said.
The Bulldogs (0-2) looked like they had something cooking on their opening possession of the game. However, a 14-play drive — all runs — stalled at the Columbus 17-yard line when junior running back Jaylan Ruffin was stopped just shy of the first-down marker on 4th-and-8.
The Bulldogs defense stepped up on the ensuing possession, forcing a punt after a sack by Elliott Purdy and Gavyn Brauer.
Esch’s punt return score, followed by his missed extra point gave Columbus the early 6-0 lead. Then, with 5 minutes, 28 seconds remaining before halftime, Columbus running back Joey Braasch scored from six yards out to put his team up 13-0, which remained the score at the break. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, who so far has an offer from Northern Iowa, unofficially finished the night with 163 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
"You look at the first half and we just shot ourselves in the foot with our sloppiness on offense, and then they get the punt return (touchdown)," Rice said.
Esch, who does a little bit of everything for Columbus, found the end zone again at the 11:07 mark of the third quarter on a 44-yard touchdown reception from quarterback CJ Fleeman for a 20-0 lead. Later in the third, Christian Dyhrkopp scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns, this from eight yards out to blow it open at 26-0.
North Platte got on the board twice in the fourth quarter on a Blake Vaughn rushing touchdown from midfield and a late 15-yard run from Tate Janas.
"I’m disappointed. We’ve done a poor job of preparing our guys in terms of matching physicality," Rice said. "We’ve got to get a lot better Monday through Thursday."
The Bulldogs will try and do that this week as they prepare for a home game against Fremont (2-0), which has defeated Lincoln Northeast 21-0 and Omaha Benson 46-12.
Columbus (2-0) 0 13 13 14 — 40
North Platte (0-2) 0 0 0 14 — 14
C: Garrett Esch punt return (PAT no good)
C: Joey Braasch 6 run (Esch kick)
C: CJ Fleeman 44 to Esch (Esch kick)
C: Christian Dyhrkopp 8 run (Two-point try no good)
C: Dyhrkopp 1 run (Esch kick)
N: Blake Vaughn 45 run (kick no good)
C: Braasch 43 run (Esch kick)
N: Tate Janas 15 run (Chase Leibhart run)