Althoff and Columbia could provide one of the best first-round playoff matchups

News-DemocratNovember 2, 2013 

Back in the Class 4A state football playoffs after finishing second in 2A last year, the Althoff Crusaders find themselves in a unique position.

They are playing a first-time opponent in the Columbia Eagles and despite the success of both programs, neither has ever met on the football field.

"We haven't played anybody in 4A this year, so we get a chance to see somebody new," Althoff coach Ken Turner said.

"I've got to think that they're the best team we've played all year without a doubt," said Columbia coach Scott Horner, whose 9-0 squad plays host to the 5-4 Crusaders at 1 p.m. Saturday. "I'd also like to think that through the course of the last 13 years in Columbia we've done some pretty good things, too.

"We also like the fact that we're playing them at home."

By the numbers: This is Althoff's 20th state playoff appearance and the Crusaders won state championships in 1980 (4A), 1989 (3A) and 1990 (3A) before losing to (Aledo) Mercer County in the 2012 Class 2A state title game.

Columbia is making its 16th playoff appearance. The Eagles lost to Plano in the 2007 Class 3A state title game and reached the semifinals in 1992 and 2008.

What to watch for: Columbia's spread offense has featured more passing in past years, but in 2013 it has been a run-heavy operation led by massive tackles Grant Snow and Cole Foster and running backs Lou Isringhaus and Camren Shewfelt.

"They're disciplined and they're well-coached," Turner said. "They fly around on defense and their run game is the key to their success. They run the spread, but they run the football out of it. They're hitting holes and they're getting what they can get."

"We've had success all year long running the football," Horner said. "Even when teams put more than five or six guys in the box, we still were able to do it."

Althoff has found much more success through the air this year led by record-setting quarterback Eric Mertens and a stable of talented receivers led by sophomore Keenen Young.

"The quarterback's numbers don't lie, he's a pretty special kid," Horner said. "He does a great job of reading defenses, finding mismatches and putting the ball on the money to his receivers so they can make plays."

Bottom line: The game figures to be decided on the line. Columbia believes it has the strength and size to control the ball on offense, and Althoff believes its schedule, strength and speed can provide an edge.

Look for whichever team that can control the line to win the game.

"We've got to tackle well," Turner said. "We can't miss tackles and let those guys get extra yards and that's a key. We have to hold our own up front and win the battle in the trenches."

Althoff players to watch: QB Eric Mertens (156-of-273, 2,215 yards, 27 TDs, 10 Ints.); WR Keenen Young (53 catches, 726 yards, 5 TDs); WR Dennis Jackson (67 carries, 340 yards, 6 TDs; 22 catches, 327 yards, 5 TDs); RB Malik Easley (67 carries, 340 yards, 6 TDs; 15 catches, 199 yards, 3 TDs); WR Austin Mueller (23 catches, 340 yards, 5 TDs); LB Aaron Medina (121 tackles, 1 sack) and LB Bret Silvestri (57 tackles, 3 sacks).

Columbia players to watch: RB Lou Isringhaus (114 carries, 1,004 yards, 12 TDs; 6 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD); QB Brock McGowan (59-of-105, 828 yards, 7 TDs, 5 Ints.; 33 carries, 135 yards, 6 TDs); RB-LB Camren Shewfelt (74 carries, 299 yards, 7 TDs; 42 tackles, 3 sacks); OL-DL Cole Foster (45 tackles, 6 sacks); OL-DL Grant Snow (45 tackles, 4 sacks) and WR Brendan Wilhelm (18 catches, 220 yards, 3 TDs).

Worth noting: Columbia linebacker Nick Antonini has been playing with a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.

"He gives it everything he's got," Horner said.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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