It was a gutsy call and Central football coach Brian Short had every ounce of faith that his team would make it a successful one.
After scoring to cut Columbia’s lead to 21-20 with 4:17 remaining in a Class 4A playoff game Saturday, the Cougars went for the lead and tried a 2-point conversion pass. Quarterback Brock Nunn’s pass to Dalton Wise was incomplete and Columbia held on for a 21-20 victory to advance to the second round.
Columbia is 10-0, but two of those wins were one-point victories over the Cougars (5-5). Columbia won the earlier Cahokia Conference game 28-27.
“I’m not sure a tie right there was what we wanted,” said Short, whose team made it 21-20 on a 14-yard TD run by Nunn and had been dominating the second half. “We were going to go for the win; we’d already talked about it and that’s a decision that we made.
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“We wanted them to have to play from behind for once and see what they could do. Unfortunately we didn’t get to that situation. It's just frustrating because that’s how close we were — and yet that's how far away we are.”
SLIMMEST OF MARGINS
The winning margin came on an extra-point by Columbia’s Greg Long following a 53-yard touchdown pass from Drew Huebner to Lamont Read with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter.
I’m not sure a tie right there was what we wanted. We were going to go for the win, we’d already talked about it and that’s a decision that we made.
Central coach Brian Short
“Just a simple little whip route for us on the outside and the Read kid takes it to the house,” said Columbia coach Scott Horner, whose team will travel to Mater Dei in the second round. “That was huge and really lifted us up a little bit, because really they had a ton of momentum in the second half. That play was big for us because I think some of our kids felt it slipping away. I kind of felt like that for a little bit, but when you have good players and senior kids that found a way to get it done for us ... that’s what they did.”
Down by one, Central had to stop Columbia on its final drive. The Central coaches ordered the defense to let the Eagles score, but running back Kenny Fields didn’t take the bait and kept going down after short gains to help run the clock out.
“That was the plan,” Short said. “It just didn’t work and they were smart enough to do that. We weren’t trying to give up, we were just trying to get the ball back with some time to go down and score.”
Fields had 158 yards and two TDs, both of which came in the first half as the Eagles jumped to a 14-0 lead. Read had seven catches for 128 yards and Huebner was 12-of-17 for 167 yards and one TD.
Columbia linebacker Owen Suedkamp had another dominant game with 18 tackles and helped anchor a defense that spent much of the second half on the field.
“This kid’s just unbelievable,” Horner said about Suedkamp.
Central controlled the line of scrimmage and the clock throughout the second half and finished with 215 yards on 40 carries. The top rusher was Nunn, who had 82 of his 94 yards in the second half and also completed 19-of-31 passes for 200 yards.
Third-quarter touchdown runs by Nunn and Thomas helped Central tie it 14-14. Read’s long TD pass down the left side came just 26 seconds after Central tied it.
“They had us on the ropes but we stuck to it and kept working, kept making tackles,” Suedkamp said. “It means so much to us. We haven’t won in the first round in a while and this is huge.”
Two plays and 15 seconds into the game, Columbia had a 7-0 lead.
A reverse to Chris Wagner picked up 52 yards and Kenny Fields punched it in from the 1 before Greg Long’s extra-point kick made it 7-0.
Central came up empty twice on trips inside the Columbia 10-yard line in the first half.
Central answered with a strong drive that included a fake punt that led to a first down. The Eagles held when Jonathan Holmes revered a fumble at the Columbia 10-yard line. On the next drive a Central pass on fourth-and-goal at the 5 was incomplete.
Central used an onside kick to open the game, then later ran a fake punt a threw a pass off a reverse play in the first half.