For five years in a row, the Columbia Eagles have been kings of the Cahokia Conference football world.
The Eagles got a career-high 244 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Colton Byrd and pounded Red Bud 55-14 on Friday for their fifth straight unbeaten conference title and 30th straight league win.
Another win pushed Columbia (8-0), ranked fifth in the Class 4A state poll, to 6-0 in the league. Red Bud (6-2) is 4-2 in the conference.
“A lot of people doubted us, in my opinion, at the start of the year,” said Columbia senior quarterback Greg Long, who threw three touchdown passes, ran for another and kicked two field goals and seven extra points. “They didn’t think we’d be able to do anything and it’s just good to come out here and have some guys who really want to play and really do well and prove everybody wrong.
“I’m really proud of the guys out here.”
The Eagles’ conference win streak is at 30 games and dates back to 2011.
Byrd had a huge night with the help of his offensive line and his own uncanny ability to make people miss at times and run over them at others.
He set the tone for the night with a 36-yard run on his first carry and the Eagles never looked back again against a Red Bud team that had been an averaging an area-best 51 points per game.
“I just saw the outside lane and just hit it, kicked my speed on and got to the sideline,” said Byrd, who has 1,105 yards and 16 touchdowns. “I juke, I spin, I turn on my jets.”
There was one play where he ran the ball and I think four guys were laying on the ground. Not because they got blocked, it was because they were trying to dive and make a tackle.
Red Bud coach Dave Lucht on his team’s inability to corral Columbia’s Colton Byrd
Red Bud coach Dave Lucht admitted his defense had no answer for Byrd and his elusive and hard-charging style.
“You can’t go diving at people, you can’t go running at people,” Lucht said. “You’ve got to close (on him). There was one play where he ran the ball and I think four guys were laying on the ground. Not because they got blocked, it was because they were trying to dive and make a tackle.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive.”
Columbia built an early 21-0 lead and the Musketeers, playing without star running back and linebacker Ryan Hess because of an ankle injury, never recovered.
“Our third or fourth possession I got a little greedy and started doing some things we probably shouldn’t have done,” Columbia coach Scott Horner said. “Then I got back to the basics and got the ball in the bull’s hands and he found a way to lead us to the end zone.”
That would be Byrd, the bull whose 39-yard run pushed the Eagles lead to 21-0 late in the first quarter on his way to a 125-yard first half.
Two Long TD passes to Liam Knox and a 43-yard field goal by Long put Red Bud in a 38-0 hold early in the third quarter before the Musketeer scored on a 75-yard strike from quarterback Greg Ziebold to Seth Bass.
“They’re really fast,” Lucht said of the Eagles. “The overall speed of the team ... its definitely something we haven’t seen anything like that up to this point. That overwhelmed us. They hit us hard early and got those 21 points.
“We settled in and did a little bit better, thought maybe we were on the right track, then it just collapsed after that.”
Hess, the second-leading rusher in the metro-east this season, has 1,350 yards and 22 touchdowns. He is also one of the Musketeers’ top defensive players at linebacker,
Long’s 13-yard run and extra point gave Columbia a 7-0 lead and a 3-yard run by Byrd helped push that to 14-0. An interception by Mitch Daniels set up another Eagles TD, with Byrd scoring on a 39-yard run on the next play with 2:49 remaining in the first quarter.