After thrilling the crowd with his longest scoring run of the year, Columbia junior running back Ronnie Hunsaker put the Eagles in the drivers seat of the Cahokia Conference race Friday with his most important touchdown of the season.
Hunsaker caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nic Horner with 31 seconds remaining to give the undefeated Eagles sole possession of the conference lead with a 38-34 win over Freeburg.
In a game full of big offensive plays by both teams, Columbia, ranked fourth in the Class 4A state football poll, fell behind the Midgets (4-2, 3-1) with 3 minutes 41 seconds left. Freeburg quarterback Cal Clossen connected with Brendan Meng on a 13-yard scoring play.
The strike left plenty of time for Eagles, though. Horner drove the Eagles downfield, helping keep the drive alive by drawing the Midgets off sides on a fourth-and-3 play. Horner then got the call from his dad, Columbia head coach Scott Horner.
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The play — code name “St. Louis Bird Call” — was one the Eagles hadn’t run all year.
“It’s a play we practice very Thursday. I thought I had under thrown the pass, but Ronnie came back and made a great catch on the play,’’ Nic Horner said. “It was said that this was a game between the best teams in the conference. By winning it puts us in first place in the conference.
“Yes, it was a big win.’’
The win also extends the Eagles’ regular-season winning streak to eight games and moved them to 6-0 for the season and 4-0 in the conference. But the game came down to the team that had the ball last.
“it was a good thing we had it last,’’ Scott Horner said during the celebration. “It is said that big players step up in big time situations. We did that tonight. I had seen Freeburg play on film and I knew they had a very good football team. We made plays all night, but we really stepped up on the last drive.”
Freeburg rallied four times in the game.
The Midgets took their first lead, 28-24 on a 4-yard run by Tanner Little with just under 10 minutes remaining. Nic Horner, who finished with three touchdown passes, gave his team back the lead when he connected with twin brother Sam Horner on a 36-yard scoring play less than three minutes later.
But the Midgets rallied again only to come up just short in the end.
“I’m so proud of this football team. They never quit battling and they left it all out on the football field. I feel like we learned a lot about ourselves tonight — things we can take with us and make us a better football team the rest of the year,’’ Freeburg coach Ronnie Stuart said. “We gave a tremendous effort. I look at it like we didn’t lose.
“We just didn’t score enough points.’’
Hunsaker, who ran 98 yards for a touchdown in the first half, and his Eagles teammates made sure of that.
“We knew the play would work. Coach Horner had not called it all year,,’’ Hunsaker said of the last minute score. “No question it was my most important touchdown of the year.’’