KENDALLVILLE — “Champions find ways to win games.”
It was a simple message but one that had meaning with seconds remaining on the clock Friday night.
Overtime was just an extra point away, but that was the message when Columbia City head coach Randy Hudgins passed up a tie for a chance at knocking off the Northeast Hoosier Conference leader No. 8 East Noble.
In the future it may be remembered as Logan Rehrer’s throw or the Murphy Miracle, but a two-point conversion with a one-point deficit sent Columbia City atop the NHC with a 56-55 win and doubters believing and opponents officially fearing the Eagles.
“We had planned yesterday if we got in that situation, we’d go for two,” Hudgins admitted of the final play call. “That’s the exact play we ran in practice. I told them don’t be surprised when it happens.”
The game that took up just over 1,200 yards of real estate and put a total of 111 points on the scoreboard came down to one point and one drive.
What started as a 2:21 march down the field on the Knights ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass across the field from QB Rehrer to wide out Connor Slavich in the corner of the end zone.
What remained was a 55-54 deficit to talk about over a time-out. Coming to the line, a set rollout for Rehrer found sophomore Jared Murphy tiptoeing the sideline for a game-winning two-point conversion catch.
“It was a great throw by Logan (Rehrer),” Murphy said. “It didn’t come open at first. I got some separation at the end. Logan extended the play. He threw it up and I went up and got it.”
With 10 seconds left in the game, the conversion was what capped off the win for Columbia City but that wasn’t the first gutsy call Hudgins made on the night.
Trailing 33-27 and East Noble receiving in the second half, Hudgins and the Eagles surprised the Knights with an onside recovery.
Rehrer followed up a 458-yard passing display with 119 yards on the ground. A big chunk of that came after the onside kick on a 40-yard dash down the sidelines. That set up a five-yard TD run by fellow 100-yard rusher Cody Wildman.
Gaining the slim 34-33 lead, Columbia City pushed its lead to 41-33 on its next drive when Rehrer punched it in for one of his six touchdowns on the night.
“Can’t say enough about Logan Rehrer,” Hudgins commented. “Played the best game I’ve ever seen him play.”
Rehrer nearly had a seventh TD as the third quarter came to a close after nearing the goaline on a keeper up the middle and fumbling as he broke the plane.
The Eagles only turnover of the game turned East Noble’s scoreless third quarter into 22 points in the final period.
The Knights dished out a shot to quickly tie the contest up 41-41 early in the fourth quarter when quarterback A.J. Dove connected with Nathan Mueller for a 44-yard score.
East Noble used another big gain from its leading rusher Jordan Miller. The Knights regained the lead after a City punt. Miller broke through the Eagles defense for a 25-burst to the end zone leaving EN up 48-41.
Rehrer scored the second of two rushing touchdowns on the ensuing drive. A 21-yard pass to Murphy also included a 32-yard hook up to Slavich before Rehrer broke two tackles from 17 yards out to score.
Back and forth they went at it with the Knights coming back this time. Miller again used a two-play drive by EN to regain the lead. Taking both carries, Miller burst down the sideline for a second time in the quarter this time from 42 yards out.
Columbia City got the final say. The game-winning drive included 10 plays with four gains of 10 yards or more.
Senior Ben Murphy has been through it all in the Columbia City program. It was in 2008 the Eagles went to East Noble falling 65-7. After a 158-yard performance in the first half by Murphy, the Eagles receiving corps showed why the East Noble game is different than others.
“East Noble has always been a huge rival,” Ben Murphy said. “Every game has been close after that 65-point blowout that we took personally. Everyone plays up to their potential when we play East Noble.”
Together the Murphy brothers combined with Slavich for 21 receptions, 357 yards and three TDs.
The statistics might seem unrealistic but the numbers add up.
Despite being down as much as 19-7 early in the first half, Columbia City used time of possession to overcome the fast-scoring offense of East Noble. The Eagles held a 31:49-16:11 time advantage for 93 plays and 673 yards of offense.
With all the statistics, the intangibles are what made one point stand out among 111.
“That’s just who we are,” Hudgins said. “We find ways to win. We played as a team and won as one. This is why we play football.”
That one point is what puts Columbia City in a four-way tie atop the NHC with 4-1 record. With New Haven, East Noble and Homestead joining the Eagles for a sprint to the finish. Columbia City’s schedule proves to favor them with sub .500 teams Carroll (3-4) and Norwell (1-6).
The Eagles head into the final two weeks of the regular season off big wins. It was the second consecutive week Columbia City beat a state-ranked team after handing then No. 9 New Haven its first loss last week. With No. 8 added to the list the question to the Eagles was, do the critics believe Columbia City now?
“They should,” Slavich said.