It took a lot to get there, including battling through rain and running through mud Friday night, but the Central Cougars are 6-0 in football for the first time in school history.
Central senior Collin Thomas went off for 262 yards and three touchdowns and Ben Rakers also ran for three scores as the Cougars held off previously unbeaten Red Bud 42-33 in a Cahokia Conference thriller.
“It means the world to us,” Central coach Brian Short said of the 6-0 start, though the Cougars (6-0 overall, 4-0 in conference play, ranked ninth in Class 3A) will be facing another tough one next week in 6-0 league rival and 4A state-ranked Columbia.
“We talked about how 5-0 was so big, but it didn’t mean anything if we lost tonight. It’s the same thing, 6-0 is huge, no one’s ever done it (at Central), but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get to seven (wins).
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“That’s our goal.”
Rakers added 109 yards and three TDs on 13 carries, but it was the Central defense stepping up big with Red Bud (5-1, 4-1) threatening in the second half.
Red Bud running back Ryan Hess, who had more than 300 yards last week, scored on a 79-yard run with 5:40 remaining to cut Central’s lead to 34-33. The Musketeers went to Hess again on the 2-point conversion run going for the lead, but Hess was stopped short and the Cougars held the rest of the way in driving rain.
Thomas tacked on another touchdown run with 1:33 remaining.
“Our defense really played well,” Short said. “With the exception of one play, I don’t know what Hess ended up with, but we had him bottled up all game and he busted one out at the end. We answered and came right back down and scored.
“As ugly as it was at times, we got done what we needed to get doe at the right times, too.”
Hess ran for 121 yards on 17 carries while Red Bud quarterback Griffin Ziebold was one of the most dangerous players on the field. Ziebold completed 14-of-21 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns while running for a TD as well.
Red Bud struck early on a 7-yard TD run by Ryan Hess and a 25-yard TD pass from Ziebold to Alex Birchler, but Central was virtually unstoppable on the ground in the half.
The Cougars got TD runs of 10 and 3 yards from Thomas, the second coming after his own interception got Central the ball back. Rakers also had a pair of TD run in the first half covering 10 and 12 yards.
Central had a 28-13 lead with 6:27 remaining in the first half, but two interceptions thrown by quarterback Hunter Toeben set up a pair of Musketeers’ touchdowns before the half ended.
Ziebold scored on a 7-yard run with 33.8 seconds remaining in the half, then Birchler’s interception set up another TD. Ziebold eluded a potential sack and managed to thread a 33-yard TD pass to Birchler with six seconds remaining in the half. Hess added the 2-point conversion run and Red Bud cut the Central lead to 28-27.
Birchler had seven catches for 160 yards and two TDs.
“Doing that against a good team like that ... we got better tonight and we did even though we lost,” said Red Bud coach Dave Lucht, whose team is ranked 10th in the Class 2A state poll. “We played a little bit better defense and we know now that even against a good team with some solid defense, we were able to come back and get some quick scores and big plays against them.
“If the kids take it right, it’s going to carry us into the rest of the season.”