COLUMBIA CITY — Something had to give. It was either going to be Columbia City’s string of Homecoming wins or New Haven’s undefeated record. In the marquee match up in the Northeast Hoosier Conference, two surprising teams brought solid records into Friday night’s contest at Max Gandy Athletic Field.
The Columbia City Eagles, boasting a stingy defense and a quick strike offense brought a 4-1 record, their best opening in more than 15 years, while New Haven with a bruising running game stood tied atop the conference with a 5-0 record.
In the end it took an overtime to decide but it was the Eagles’ string of Homecoming wins that stayed intact as Columbia City claimed a 34-28 win over the previously unbeaten Bulldogs.
It is hard to believe in a game that saw 62 points scored that defense played a large role in the outcome, but the first score of the ball game came as a result of a defensive play by the Eagles. Columbia City safety Jared Murphy recorded his fourth interception of the year on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage.
With a first down on the New Haven 34 yard line quarterback Logan Rehrer ran for 18 yards. On the next play Rehrer hit senior receiver Ben Murphy on a 16-yard touchdown pass to put the Eagles up 7-0 with less than 30 seconds gone in the contest.
The Eagles drove the ball again down to the New Haven 25 before failing to convert a fourth down and one yard to go. The Eagle defense returned the favor holding the Bulldogs on a similar fourth and one on the New Haven 45.
An Eagle fumble gave the Bulldogs the ball on the Columbia City 37-yard line to start the second quarter. New Haven running back Te’Vaughn Hurse who leads al area rushers with over 1300 yards coming into Friday night’s game covered the distance in two plays, scoring on a 10 yard run to tie the game at 7-7.
The Eagle offense struggled for a great deal of the second quarter and turned the ball over on downs at the New Haven 46, where Hurse again hurt the Eagles this time scoring on a 52-yard scamper to put the Bulldogs up 14-7.
The Bulldogs added another score on a trick play, when Hurse took a hand-off on what looked like a draw play into the middle, stopped and lateralled the ball back to quarterback Lucas Salerno who hit receiver Latwon Ford for the score from 37 yards out to put New Haven ahead 21-7.
The Eagle offense closed the gap at the end of the first half, thanks in part to a 68 yard kick-off return by junior Cody Wildman that gave the Eagles a first down on the New Haven 32. Rehrer threw a 29 yard scoring strike to Thomas DeLaCruz who went high to snag the pass and then went in for the score to close the margin to 21-14 at the half.
“We did what we’ve done all year,” Hudgins said. “ It seems we play better when we’re behind.”
Hurse hit the Eagles for 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first half, and 261 yards for the contest.
“At halftime we were down 21-14 and I said, ‘Hey, we’ve been here before,” Hudgins said. “We could have folded up several times in the second half, but that’s not what we do, that’s not Columbia City football.”
The Eagles got the ball in great field position when the Bulldogs’ attempt at a fake punt on a fourth and one at their own 19 and lost a yard. Four plays later the Eagles had a fourth and two at the New HAven ten-yard line. Rehrer hit Ben Murphy in left corner of the end zone for Murphy’s second touchdown of the night to knot the score at 21-21.
The Bulldogs went back in front on their first possession of the fourth quarter riding the legs of Hurse who rushed five times to take the ball to the CC 25-yard line. There Salerno, in the grasp of a Columbia City defender found a receiver in the end zone to put the Bulldogs up 28 -21.
The Eagles again struck quickly covering 73 yards in three plays, with Wildman covering the last 46 yards in a sprint up the middle to tie the score at 28-28.
A missed Columbia City field goal attempt and then good pass defense by the Eagles sent the game into overtime tied at 28-28.
The Bulldogs had the first possession in the extra period and the Eagle defense came up big stopping Hurse for a one-yard loss and then breaking up two passes before the Bulldogs missed a 29 yard field goal attempt.
“Te’Vaughn Hurse is a great running back and you saw that here tonight, but we were able to keep him under wraps for the most part, and our defense made the plays when they had to,” Hudgins commented.
On the second play of the Eagles’ overtime possession quarterback Logan Rehrer faked the hand off and took the ball seven yards up the middle to give the Eagles the 34-28 win.
“In the overtime it was just shear guts and a good amount of luck. It’s just an outstanding win for us,” Hudgins said.
The Columbia City win sets up another showdown game next week when the Eagles travel to Kendallville to face the undefeated and NHC-leading East Noble Knights.