ANGOLA — What is it about the fourth quarter and Columbia City football?
After countless penalties and lost leads, the Eagles found another way to win in the final period.
No. 8 Columbia City (10-1) saw an early 14-0 first-quarter lead disappear Friday night at Angola (9-2). Over two struggling quarters, the Hornets had the Eagles trailing —that is, until the fourth quarter.
Forcing two turnovers, Columbia City reeled off 20 points in the final stand coming back to beat Angola 41-27 setting up a rematch of last season’s sectional championship against Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger.
“It’s just big-time players making big-time plays in big-time games,” Columbia City head coach Randy Hudgins said.
The big plays sandwiched around two dismal quarters in the middle of the game where Columbia City tallied only seven points.
“They had a really good defensive game plan,” Hudgins admitted. “They did some things that really gave us some problems.”
Before Angola could slow down the Eagle offense 14 points went on the scoreboard. With each team throwing an interception in the first two minutes of the game, Columbia City was the one that capitalized.
Grabbing the pick that set up City’s first scoring drive, junior Connor Slavich pulled in the first pass of the game for 39 yards leading to a one-yard Logan Rehrer touchdown.
With 6:42 left in the first quarter, Columbia City stood with a 14-0 lead after Rehrer found senior wideout Thomas De La Cruz across the middle for a 40-yard TD pass.
The Hornets chipped away at the Eagles lead before the half grabbing a touchdown run on a QB keeper from Alexx Bauer. What was expected to be a passing contest between aerial offenses became a foot race for Angola with Bauer rushing for 92 of his team’s 165 yards on the ground.
Angola gained its first lead in the third quarter when Skylar Parker capped off a second-half opening drive with a three-yard run.
Three lead changes saw Columbia City down by the end of the third quarter. Angola used a high percentage on third down to hold a 24-21 lead. The Hornets went 5-for-6 in the third scoring the last points on Bauer’s only TD pass of the night.
“It had to start at the line and work its way out,” Hudgins noted. “We challenged our guys at halftime and hats go off to them.”
The challenge was met by Slavich as the fourth quarter began.
Bauer had two interceptions in the game and Slavich was on the other end of both. Bauer's second came at the wrong time deep in his own end of the field. Slavich broke off a sideline pass taking an interception back 22 yards for the touchdown.
“My receiver was running a comeback route and he slipped,” Slavich said. “I saw the ball out of his (Bauer) hands and I jumped it quick. I just picked it off and started running.”
Already up 28-24 after Slavich’s pick, Columbia City forced its second turnover of the fourth quarter on the ensuing kickoff. A high floating kick down the sideline by senior kicker Devin Rice hit off an Angola blocker allowing Tyler Andreas to jump on the loose ball.
From 27 yards out, Columbia City used six plays to go up 34-24 on Rehrer’s second short-yard touchdown run of the game.
Angola regained its composure long enough to get a 35-yard field goal from Joel Lopshire and cut the lead to one score on the next drive.
With just under two minutes remaining, Columbia City looked to run out the clock with a quick first down. Pushed back to a third and 11, the Eagles ran a reverse with 1:26 left. De La Cruz took off to the sideline cutting back at the last moment and seeing daylight.
“It was just a reverse to me to get the first down,” De La Cruz noted. “Then I saw (Ben) Murphy making the lead block and I just took it all the way to the house.”
De La Cruz’s 32-yard scamper sealed Columbia City’s return to the sectional championship for a rematch against defending champion Bishop Dwenger.
“It’ll be an outstanding atmosphere,” Hudgins said of the title game next Friday at Max Gandy Athletic Field. “It’s something that we’ve looked forward to since the end of last year.”
Records have been reviewed in Columbia City history with no signs of another team with 10 wins.
The Eagles got the latest victory despite snapping the ball on offense nearly half as much as Angola. The Hornets took 91 plays from scrimmage for 340 yards while Columbia City used up just 16:01 of the 48-minute game for its 333 total yards.