In recent years, few Cahokia Conference football teams have played Columbia much tougher than the Freeburg Midgets.
While Columbia has won the previous four meetings and seven of the last eight, four of those seven victories were by a touchdown or less.
“They’re extremely big up front and like Freeburg always has been, they’re aggressive defensively,” Columbia coach Scott Horner said. “They like to really get after you. Those kinds of things pose a problem. They like to take a lot of chances.
“They like to blitz a lot of people at times and any time you do that it’s high-risk and high-reward, but it’s something they’ve been successful with.”
Freeburg has been at a major disadvantage since senior two-way standout Keegan Baxmeyer was lost for the season with an ACL injury in the second game.
“He’s just a quality athlete,” Horner said of Baxmeyer, also one of the area’s top catching prospects.
FRIDAY’S GAME: Columbia (5-0 overall, 2-0 in Cahokia Conference) at Freeburg (3-2, 1-2), 7 p.m.
RANKINGS: Columbia is eighth in the Class 4A state rankings and second in the BND Small-School Rankings; Freeburg is 10th in the BND Small-School Rankings
LAST MEETING: Columbia defeated Freeburg 31-21 last season.
LAST WEEK: Columbia struggled at times during a 33-21 conference win over Carlyle. Freeburg pulled out a wild 42-41 overtime league win over Red Bud, holding the Musketeers out of the end zone on a 2-point conversion in OT.
SCOUTING COLUMBIA: Horner wasn’t happy with his offense last week and made some in-game changes.
One was getting backup running back Colton Byrd more carries and Byrd responded with 152 yards and three touchdowns, including a 34-yarder, on just 15 carries. Starter Kenny Fields added 104 yards rushing.
Suddenly he goes in and gives us that spark and by the end of the night he’s at 15 carries for 150-some yards and three TDs.
Columbia coach Scott Horner on running back Colton Byrd
“Suddenly he goes in and gives us that spark and by the end of the night he’s at 15 carries for 150-some yards and three TDs,” Horner said of Byrd.
The Eagles stayed almost exclusively on the ground and starting quarterback Drew Huebner shared snaps with Greg Long. Long, normally the kicker and safety, addied another 70 yards rushing to the team’s 359-yard total.
Long is normally Columbia’s kicker and safety.
Fields (580 yards, seven TDs), Byrd (267 yards, four TDs) and Long (210 yards, one TD) provide quality rushing depth. Huebner has completed 45-of-75 passes for 754 yards and 10 TDs with only one interception and his top receivers are Jordan Holmes (16 catches, 211 yards, one TD) and Chris Wagner, who has TDs on four of his seven receptions.
“I think we’ve got a good balance offensively,” Horner said. “We can run it if that’s what the defense gives us and we’ve got a great deal of speed on the perimeter that is tough for teams to guard against.”
SCOUTING FREEBURG: Senior quarterback Joseph Wolf completed 15-of-19 passes for 253 yards and four TDs in the overtime win over Red Bud. Wolf has thrown for for 814 yards and seven TDs with five interceptions and leads the Midgets in rushing and scoring with 365 yards and eight TDs.
Bobby Tedesco (40 carries, 304 yards, one TD) and Davon Gravot (31 carries, 243 yards, four TDs) bolster the running attack.
The top receivers are John Hilpert (10 catches, 244 yards, two TDs), Will Hogan (18 catches, 243 yards, three TDs) and Tedesco (15 catches, 208 yards, two TDs).
Michael Smith (35 tackles, one sack) has been solid on defense along with Brennin Kimes (23 tackles, two sacks).