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Columbia and Freeburg get rematch of Week 6 thriller, this time in the playoffs

Columbia’s Ronnie Hunsaker and Chase Napier celebrate after Hunsaker’s game-winning touchdown run late in the fourth quarter of their Cahokia Conference showdown with Freeburg Friday night in Columbia.
Columbia’s Ronnie Hunsaker and Chase Napier celebrate after Hunsaker’s game-winning touchdown run late in the fourth quarter of their Cahokia Conference showdown with Freeburg Friday night in Columbia. Chris Johns

As far as regular season high school football games are concerned, the Cahokia Conference showdown four weeks ago between longtime rivals Freeburg and Columbia had a little bit of everything.

Two of the top scoring offenses in the metro-east put their play makers on display for 47 minutes before a 21-yard touchdown pass from Columbia’s Nic Horner to Ronnie Hunsaker with 31 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in the Eagles’ 38-34 win.

“It was a great high school football game.. Of course it’s easy for me to say that now because we came out on top,’’ Columbia coach Scott Horner said this week. “I think both coaching staffs would have liked to have had their defenses play a little bit better, but we both showed what kind of offensive numbers we can put up.

“Hopefully for us its the same outcome, but I think it could be the same type of game this week.’’

Seeded ninth in one half of the Class 4A state playoff bracket, the Midgets (7-2) will journey back to Columbia Saturday for a rematch with the eighth-seeded Eagles (7-2) in a first-round playoff game. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.

For Columbia, making the playoffs is nothing new. Horner’s team has now qualified eight straight years and will be making its 22nd postseason appearance in all.

But Freeburg, which had won just eight games in three years prior to this season is making its first postseason appearance since 2014.

“Of course, you would always like to play a team you wouldn’t normally see when you get into the playoffs. But its been a few years for us and so we’re really excited to get the chance to play against an excellent football program,’’ Midgets coach Ronnie Stuart said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries and sickness the last couple of years and so I’m happy for our seniors who have really stepped up as well as our juniors and sophomores who have contributed. It’s been a team effort.’’

Both Freeburg and Columbia entered the Oct. 3 game tied for the conference lead and on that early fall night the game lived up to its advanced billing Neither team led by more than seven points throughout the game.

The Eagles took a 24-21 lead late in the the third quarter on a 33-yard field goal by junior Sam Horner. But the Midgets then took their first lead with 9 minutes 53 seconds remaining on a 4-yard run by Tanner Little. The lead then see-sawed back and forth before Hunsaker’s touchdown reception gave the Eagles the win.

“Going into it, I thought it would be a game between two very good teams. I was right,’’ Stuart said. “It was a very well played game by both teams. We had been getting big plays and turnovers from our defense and that was one night where we didn’t get any. I thought we played well. It was a game where I just felt like we ran out of time.’’

The win gave Columbia the lead in the Cahokia Conference and put them at 6-0. The Eagles stumbled a bit down the stretch, losing to Central, a defeat which would eventually result in a three way tie between Columbia, Central and Freeburg for the league title. The Eagles lost to Jersey in its regular season finale last week.

Sitting at 4-2 following the defeat, Freeburg won its final three games,, outscoring Wesclin, Salem and Lincoln by a combined 138-57 to finish the regular season at 7-2.

Stuart said he expects another close game on Saturday with a berth in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs on the line.

“We know each other well, but I think you’ll see both teams try and do some different things and give some different looks than what they did the first time,’’ Stuart said. “Will it be another high scoring game? It could be. But a lot of times, you go into a game expecting a lot of points and the defenses dominate. It could be a 14-7 or 17-14 game just as easily.’’

Horner said the atmosphere the game should be an electric one with a huge crowd expected.

“Especially when you have two teams who have turned into rivals like we have with Freeburg. It should be a heck of a game,’’ Horner said. “It’s the playoffs so it could and usually will come down to execution and turnovers.

“For us we have to do a better job on both the offensive and defensive line of scrimmage. We haven’t been very consistent up front the last few weeks.

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