The closest any team has come to ruining Columbia’s unbeaten season has been the Central Cougars.
The Cougars get a second shot at ending the Eagles’ perfect 9-0 season and knocking them out of the Class 4A playoffs Saturday when the Cahokia Conference rivals meet for the second time.
Columbia won the first meeting 28-27 on Oct. 9 as the Cougars fought hard despite losing starting quarterback Hunter Toeben to injury in the first half and being without receiver Dalton Wise.
“We created some of it with turnovers, but them controlling the ball land us not executing offensively had a lot to do with it,” Columbia coach Scott Horner said. “The motivation for us is they’re a good football team and we know we have to execute. They were right in the game with an opportunity to beat us. If we don’t want that same situation again, we’re going to have to play better and play a lot more aggressively.”
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Central has struggled down the stretch, losing its last three games and four of five, but the Cougars know they have a great opportunity on Saturday.
They’re 9-0, they’re a very good team, but we played really well against them. It’s probably one of the better games we’ve played this season.
Central coach Brian Short
“All year we’ve shown the capability of being a good team,” Central coach Brian Short said. “They’re 9-0, they’re a very good team, but we played really well against them (in the previous meeting). It’s probably one of the better games we’ve played this season. “
Central (5-4) at Columbia (9-0), 1 p.m.
Columbia is seventh in the 4A state rankings.
This is Central’s 10th playoff appearance and the Cougars are 7-9. Columbia finished second in 3A in 2007. This is the Eagles’ 19th playoff appearance and they are 17-18 in the postseason, knocked out in the first round by Althoff in 2013 and 2014.
Brock Nunn (28-of-47 passing, 463 yards, four TDs two interceptions; 146 yards rushing three TDs) has replaced Toeben at quarterback and gained valuable experience the last few weeks.
The Cougars like to pound things out on the ground behind a big, aggressive offensive line. The top running backs are Brent Timmons (899 yards, 11 TDs) and Collin Thomas (427 yards, seven TDs), while Wise (16 catches, 338 yards, two TDs), Ben Rakers (11 catches, 203 yards ,two TDs) and Brice Haselhorst (12 catches 122 yards, two TDs) are the top receivers.
“I was impressed with their offensive and defensive lines,” Horner said. “Their kids are big and aggressive and they play low, we had trouble blocking them at times.”
Defensive backs Lucas Koopman (81 tackles) and Tarik Tibbs (68 tackles, one sack, one interception) and lineman Domonic Weary (50 tackles four sacks, one interception) lead the defense.
Columbia scores often and can score in a hurry thanks to a wide-open spread attack manned by quarterback Drew Huebner (89-of-144 passing, 1.409 yards, 20 TDs, four interceptions) and a bulldozing offensive line known as “The Monsters.”
Senior back Kenny Fields (1,371 yards, 15 TDs) has speed and strength, as does Colton Byrd (375 yards six TDs).
Five of Chris Wagner’s 10 receptions have gone for touchdowns and he has 197 yards. Receivers Jordan Holmes (37 catches, 474 yards, four TDs) and Jonathan Holmes (13 catches 202 yards five TDs) are dangerous threats as well.
Junior linebacker Owen Suedkamp (127 tackles and defensive back Jonathan Holmes adds 49 tackles are among the defensive standouts.
“They’re about as balanced a team as you’re going to find,” Short said.