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OSSIAN — Even in the mind of Columbia City head coach Randy Hudgins, Friday night’s 32-10 victory at Norwell was unbelievable.
That’s because in one season, the Eagles went from the basement of the Northeast Hoosier Conference to the top, clinching a share of their second NHC title in school history and first since 1990.
“It’s just an outstanding thing for a program to be 2-7 last year and now to be 8-1,” Hudgins said. “That’s been one of our goals — to play for championships.”
In the spring of 2009 when Hudgins first walked onto the scene at CCHS, he took on a rebuilding project in the Eagles that hadn’t seen a season over .500 since 2003.
Even Hudgins will admit the challenge was a big one. No one could have imagined what would come in just his second season.
“I did not really,” Hudgins admitted when asked if he saw a conference title coming so soon. “I looked through our goal sheets. Winning the NHC title was really not even on their radar screen. I think we as coaches and players didn’t really know what we had until the Homestead game.”
Since its only loss of the season, 31-28 to the Spartans, No. 8 Columbia City has reeled off five consecutive wins including two over state-ranked opponents.
The latest came with a different aspect of Columbia City’s high-powered offensive attack.
The Eagles used the running game to close out the regular season gaining 251 yards on the ground.
Junior Cody Wildman carried the brunt of the load with 178 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
It was Wildman’s two touchdown runs that put Columbia City on the scoreboard and finished off Norwell in the second half.
The Eagles looked sharp coming out of the gates with Wildman carrying six times in the first drive and helping Columbia City grab four first downs.
Inside the Knights’ 10-yard line, Wildman punched in the score to help the Eagles lead early, 6-0.
The rest of the first half Columbia City struggled with rhythm on offense, allowing Norwell to gain a 10-6 lead.
First hitting on a 23-yard field goal, Norwell took over the lead in the second quarter going through the air with quarterback Noah Patten.
Three completions to tight end Jeff Shatto put the Knights in the red zone. Patten followed with a pass to wideout Kyle Sink on a cross field pass in the corner of the end zone with 8:54 remaining in the half.
Despite rallying to score on an 18-yard TD pass from QB Logan Rehrer to Thomas De La Cruz, the Eagles struggled in the remainder of the half up 13-10 at the break.
“We just had to execute,” Hudgins said. “We had dropped passes, fumbles and turnovers. We left touchdowns on the field but in true form in the second half we were at the best when our backs were against the wall.”
On the second possession of the half, Columbia City got the spark it needed with 2:16 left in the third quarter. It came from Wildman again, taking seven touches on an eight-play drive that finished with a four-yard dive by Wildman.
“Cody Wildman did a great job,” Hudgins noted. “We were able to get those three touchdowns in the second half and that was a really big thing for us to do that on the ground.”
The score ignited the Eagles defense. Norwell didn’t see the Eagles side of the field again with hard hits from Jared Murphy and Jacob Moser setting the tone.
While the CC defense held the Knights to just one first down in the fourth quarter, the Eagles offense put up two more scores.
Rehrer got the second of his two TD passes again hooking up with De La Cruz for a 21-yard score in the fourth quarter.
As they took a police escort back to their hometown Friday night, Hudgins knows the job isn’t finished.
“This is a great thing for Columbia City,” Hudgins noted. “We just have to carry this in to the playoffs. This can’t be the high point of our season.”