COLUMBIA — Althoff coach Ken Turner said big-game situations bring out the best in sophomore receiver Keenen Young.
More evidence was presented Saturday in Althoff's 35-14 Class 4A first-round playoff victory over previously unbeaten Columbia as Young hauled in two touchdown passes and returned an interception 100 yards for a third TD.
"We're not shocked," Turner said of Young, who had six catches for 141 yards and burned the Eagles (9-1) with his speed. "He's a solid football player on both sides of the ball and in this type of atmosphere he seems to thrive. He loves big games and he showed up like we expect him to."
Althoff (6-4) will be at home next weekend against Herrin (8-2), which beat Marquette 20-14 in overtime on Saturday.
Columbia was threatening to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter that would have cut Althoff's lead to seven when Young grabbed an interception near the goal line and took off for the other end.
It took him a while to get there, weaving in and out of traffic while using his blockers.
"Coach was picking on me the whole game telling me that I should have got a pick," Young said. "I saw it coming and I read the quarterback's eyes; I tipped it up and I caught it. ... I caught a cramp like halfway through and fell at the goal line. Luckily he said I was in."
Young had his biggest game last year as a freshman in a 14-7 Class 2A state championship game loss to Mercer County. Turner said that type of experience benefits all the players that were back from 2012.
"We've got a lot of guys back from last year's team and a few guys that have been in this type of environment," Turner said.
Young caught a 36-yard TD pass over the middle to put the Crusaders on top late in the first quarter, but the Eagles quickly answered.
On a 67-yard drive aided by a personal foul on Althoff and four offsides penalties, Columbia punched it in on a 1-yard run by Camren Shewfelt.
"I couldn't be any more proud of our kids," said Columbia coach Scott Horner, whose team was ranked third in 4A and first in the metro-east small-school poll. "I hope all the haters out there can zip their lips because if you were at this game, you know it wasn't a 35-14 game. We played as well as we could play and our kids left it all out on the field.
"That's all we ever ask of our kids."
A long kickoff return by Young got Althoff into Columbia territory and Althoff quarterback Eric Mertens lowered his shoulder to pound his way into the end zone from 11 yards out, putting the Crusaders up 14-7.
Horner didn't mind trailing by seven at halftime, but the Eagles were having trouble controlling Young and Althoff running back Malik Easley. Easley finished with 106 yards on 20 carries.
"When you look across the board at their athletes versus our athletes, there's no question," Horner said. "Their athletes are a little bit better than ours but you know what? We made plays despite that through the course of the game."
Mertens, who completed 9-of-15 passes for 169 yards and three TDs, tossed a 39-yard score to Young late in the third quarter to push Althoff's lead to 21-7.
Columbia receiver Cole Crissup got behind the Althoff defense for a 69-yard TD pass from Brock McGowan with 10:35 remaining in the game to cut the lead to 21-14.
McGowan was 21-for-32 for 216 yards in a game Horner said was easily the best of his career. Crissup had six catches for 119 yards and a TD.
But two more decisive plays helped seal the win, starting with Althoff receiver Collin McClellan leaping high over a defender to make a 23-yard catch at the goal line for a score.
That was followed up by Young's "pick six" as the Crusaders moved into Round 2 of the postseason.
"How can you have better coverage on the kid down here on the goal line than what we had, and the kid made the play," Horner said of McClellan. "Sometimes you've got to tip your hat to the other guys. Their kids made plays when they needed to."