For 10 weeks, opponents tried and failed to defeat the Columbia Eagles.
Saturday, in the second round of the Illinois Class 4A football playoffs, it was the Mater Dei Knights' turn to be unstoppable.
Tenth-seeded Mater Dei scored on seven of its 10 possessions to upset the previously unbeaten and second-seeded Eagles, 45-22.
With the victory, the Knights (8-3) advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. They'll face No. 3 Taylorville (11-0).
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"It's good to be back in this spot and we are enjoying every minute of it," said Jim Stiebel, who was in his first year as Mater Dei's head coach the last time the Knights advanced this far. "We keep telling the kids we want a bigger plaque than anybody has in there. It's inching closer and closer."
The loss was a crushing end for Columbia, which has dominated opponents all year by averaging more than 41 points per game. The Eagles, a Class 3A state runner-up under head coach Scott Horner in 2007, have never advanced beyond the second round of the 4A playoffs, though they've qualified five years in a row.
We keep telling the kids we want a bigger plaque than anybody has in there. It's inching closer and closer.
Jim Stiebel, Mater Dei head football coach
Their season ends at 10-1 and Horner spent extra time after the loss consoling his senior players.
“Ultimately, it's not always about the wins and the losses ... it's about the relationships that those guys have developed, that I have developed with those guys," said an emotional Horner. "I coach so I can give something to those guys that they can carry along for the rest of their life. The next chapter begins for them now."
Midway through the third quarter, Mater Dei widened its lead to 30-14 when senior Brendan Timmermann scored the second of his three touchdowns on a three-yard run. Having controlled possession of the ball for more than 21 of the first 30 minutes played, it looked like the Knights had all but locked down the win.
Mater Dei has not been to a class 4A state quarterfinal since 2009. The No. 10 Knights (8-3) will face No. 3 Taylorville (11-0) next week.
But Columbia responded with a 14-play, 45-yard drive that was capped by Kenny Field's two-yard run on fourth down. Drew Huebner passed to Jonathan Holmes for a two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game, 30-22.
Horner wanted the tie before the end of the third quarter and called for an on-sides kick. But the Knights recovered and took their 16-point lead back with another clock-killing scoring drive capped on Colin Schuetz's quarterback sneak. Columbia had four turnovers in the game.
"We had some life, but we just couldn't stop them. That's why we kicked on-sides, because we had to take a chance at that point," Horner said. "We got to within eight points and I told the coaches 'we've got to go for it right now.' Ultimately, if we kicked off and they got the ball at the 10, they were going to go 90 yards on us anyway."
Schuetz completed 21-of-29 pass attempts for 206 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed 20 times for 122 yards and two more touchdowns. Timmerman had 12 catches for 110 yards and a score, and rushed 14 times for 69 yards and touchdowns of three and one yards.
I coach so I can give something to those guys that they can carry along for the rest of their life. The next chapter begins for them now.
Scott Horner, Columbia head football coach after an emotional meeting with senior players
Mater Dei had 490 yards of offense. The Knights failed to score only on a pair of turnovers and on their final clock-killing possession.
"Our running game has been a little muted by our passing, but today I could tell it was pretty balanced," Schuetz said. "I think that's what won us the game. Our line was great."
Columbia was held to 251 yards of offense. Fields carried 17 times for 56 yards and a touchdown. Huebner was 13-of-23 for 205 yards with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Holmes and a 53-yard scoring completion to Lamont Read.
Holmes had five catches for 86 yards.