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COLUMBIA CITY — From start to finish, the Columbia City versus Homestead football game certainly gave the capacity crowd their money’s worth.
Those who arrived late or left early will be kicking themselves for doing so. From an opening kick-off touchdown to momentum-changing strings of unanswered scoring on both sides, and a game eventually decided by a second-chance field goal, the Northeast Hoosier Conference match-up had everything, but an Eagle win for the hometown fans at Max Gandy Athletic field, as the Spartans escaped with a 31-28 win.
“Our goal this year is to gain respect throughout the area and through out the conference,” said Columbia City head coach Randy Hudgins, “And I hope people see the score and see that we have something brewing here.”
The Eagles put the visitors on notice that this was not the same team that they manhandled 56-0 last year at the opening kick-off.
Junior return man Cody Wildman took the Spartan kick at his own 10 and broke through the middle and was gone on a 90-yard return to put the Eagles up 7-0 with just 15 second gone in the game.
The Columbia City defense bent against the Spartans for the entire first quarter but did not break, forcing a punt, a missed field goal attempt, and also forcing the visitors to turn the ball over on downs.
The Spartans got on the board in the second quarter scoring in 10 plays after recovering a Columbia City fumble at the Eagle 36 yard line. Homestead quarterback Zach Terrell hit running back Cody Appenzeller with a 27 yard pass to tie the score 7-7 with 6:01 left in the half.
Homestead took the lead on another 10-play drive when on a second and goal from the Columbia City two yard line Terrell scored on a keeper around the right side to put the Spartans up 14-7.
The Spartans capitalized on another Eagle miscue on Columbia City’s next possession, when the Eagles coughed the ball up on the first play from scrimmage. Scoring with just 11 seconds on the clock in the first half, when Terrell picked up his third running touchdown of the game from four yards out.
Receiving the second half kick-off the Spartans put up their fourth unanswered touchdown on a 10-play drive highlighted by a third and seven pass that covered 15 yards down to the Columbia City 25 yard line. Four plays later running back Brad Mills rumbled over to put the Spartans up 28-7.
Following the kick-off the Eagle offense came alive. Quarterback Logan Rehrer completed five passes for 57 yards including consecutive passes to Connor Slavich for 35 and seven yards.
With a first and goal from the six-yard line Rehrer hit Slavich in the right front corner of the end zone to make the score 28-14.
The Eagle defense came up big on the Spartans next series forcing two fumbles the second of which Columbia City’s Garrett Cormany recovered on the Columbia City 49 yard line.
Columbia City went to work having a 30-yard gain on a pass to Slavich called back on a penalty. The Eagles, facing a fourth and 15, dropped back to punt but Rehrer completed a 41-yard pass on the fake, hooking up with receiver Thomas De La Cruz all the way down to the Spartan eight yard line.
Six plays later, aided by an interference penalty on the Spartans, Rehrer took the ball over from the one to close the gap to 28-21 with 9:29 left in the game.
The Columbia City defense held the Spartans and took over on downs at the 5:04 mark at their own, and began a score-tying drive. The drive featured passes of 12 and 22 yards to DeLaCruz. Columbia City capped the drive with a 47-yard strike from Rehrer to De La Cruz that knotted the score 28-28.
The Eagles had their shot at breaking the Spartans 15-year winning streak following an Eagle interception of Terrell. With 16 seconds left the Eagles Devin Rice tried a 35-yard field goal against the wind. The ball came out low and the Spartans were able to block the attempt.
Homestead took over and moved the ball down to the Columbia City 25 yard line behind 33 and 12 yard completions. With nine seconds left in the game, the Spartans lined up for a 42-yard field gaol attempt. Even with the wind the attempt fell well short and it appeared that the game was headed for overtime, but the Eagles were whistled for running into the kicker.
Homestead kicker Austin Wilburn converted the 37-yard attempt as time ran out to give the Spartans the 31-28 win.
“Our kids showed a level of toughness that we have just rarely seen, to come back against Homestead,” Hudgins said. “To come back from a deficit of 21 points to have a chance to win in the second half is really all we can ask of them. I just can’t be prouder of these kids.”