Columbia sophomore Nic Horner admitted to being jumpy Friday.
But the 5-foot-8, 140-pound Horner, pressed into duty at quarterback because of a shoulder injury to junior Shane Wilhelm, was calm and collected when it mattered most as he led the Eagles to a dramatic come-from-behind 31-25 victory over Waterloo.
Horner was 10 of 18 for 193 yards and two touchdowns, including a 50-yard strike to twin brother Sam in the second quarter. Sam Horner, meanwhile, had four catches for 119 yards. The touchdown catch from his brother could be the first of many at Columbia.
“I wasn’t really a nervous wreck,” Nic Horner said of the time leading up to his start. “During practice, I was fine. But then today in seventh- and eighth-hour class, I was like, ‘Oh, God. Here it comes.’ In the (pregame) meal, I didn’t really eat much. I was really nervous. But I came down here, settled in, and it went well.”
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Scott Horner, the players’ dad and the Eagles coach, was overwhelmed with excitement about the victory and the performance of his first-time quarterback.
“Let’s start as a dad: I’m obviously proud as heck,” he said. “(Nic) was put into a really tough situation in a game like that. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he’s had a great summer, he works at it and he understands it. That makes me very proud. From a coaching standpoint, certainly some growth happened tonight.”
Waterloo (0-2) grabbed a 25-24 lead on junior Dalton Viglasky’s 19-yard touchdown run with 3:56 left in the game.
Columbia (1-1) was on its 27-yard line when Nic Horner found Sam Horner for a key 36-yard pass to the Waterloo 37. Three plays later, the duo hooked up again, this time for a 21-yard gain on third down to the Bulldogs’ 12.
Senior Colton Byrd (25 carries, 96 yards) took over from there, with a 7-yard gain to the 8, followed by a touchdown run that made it 30-25 with 1:25 left. The PAT made it 31-25, and Columbia’s defense subdued Waterloo on its final possession.
Sam Horner said he tried to stay communicative with Nic throughout the game.
“I said a few words to him, because last week was my first game,” Sam said. “I had a bunch of senior leaders stepping up and helping me out, helping me calm down. I just used the same thing they did to help (Nic) out.”
Of his brother, Nic said: “It’s going to be awesome (playing with him). It will definitely be fun. It’s an honor to have him out there.”
Waterloo led 18-13 at halftime. Scott Horner called the first two quarters a “circus.”
But in the second half, the Eagles’ offense line began to click, and it afforded Nic Horner more time to throw. His pocket presence and poise enabled him to make play after play.
“It definitely was a circus,” Scott Horner said of the first half. “We’ve got a lot of inexperienced kids out there. Our offensive line’s got two sophomores starting, I had a sophomore quarterback, a sophomore wide receiver. But we have a lot of other great kids around those kids, which helped.
“We had to establish a little bit of a run game. We were able to move the ball a little bit running the ball.”
Scott Horner said the most important part of Friday was the victory.
“Let’s not lose sight of what my job is,” he said. “I’m the football coach of 42 football players. So that’s where my focus is. I’m very proud, without question, as a dad. But I’m equally proud, if not more proud, of our guys. We came together tonight. When you can execute in tough situations and win a game of this caliber, it should do a lot for you moving forward.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm