With a 24-6 victory on Sunday over Freeburg, the Columbia Blue Jays Varsity Division team won its 49th straight game and fifth consecutive Southwest Illinois Youth Football Conference title while sending two coaches happily off into the sunset.
“It was a bittersweet moment for me,” Blue Jays varsity head coach Shane O’Brien said.
O’Brien, a 2005 graduate of Waterloo High School who played football at McKendree University, said he is stepping down from coaching the seventh and eighth graders and assuming the head coaching role for the Blue Jays’ youngest players.
His son, 6-year-old Madden, will begin playing and he wants to coach him.
Sunday’s win also marked the final game for longtime Blue Jays coach Mark Jackson. He has served as O’Brien’s varsity assistant coach during this impressive 49-0 run and been a part of the program for 22 years.
“He’s been the main guy along with me on this ride and has done an amazing job,” O’Brien said.
Overall, O’Brien’s varsity teams have gone 56-3 in his six years. His first year was 2014, which resulted in a 7-3 campaign.
It’s been all wins since then, with four straight 10-0 seasons followed by this season’s 9-0 showing.
“It’s a lot about our style of offense,” O’Brien said of his team’s league dominance. “We’re running a high school/college type of up tempo offense with people in motion, passing. It’s more dynamic.”
In fact, his teams have averaged about 47 points per game the past five seasons while allowing just 13.
Other assistants helping O’Brien this season included Brian Monheiser, Tom Miller, Alex Schultheis and Kyle Hemmer.
The star player on this year’s squad was quarterback Jackson Bueltemann, who was adopted by parents Denise and David from the Phillippines last year.
“He literally just learned the game last year through YouTube and tons of practice,” O’Brien said. “He was for sure one of the best players on the field all year.”
O’Brien praised Bueltemann, who throws left-handed, as a naturally gifted athlete and said a comparison to fleet-footed young Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson would be a “fair comparison.”
Other key players on this year’s squad included running backs Turner Hunsaker and Ryland Lotz, wide receiver Sean McConachie and defensive stars Sam Denny and Brandon Jackson. Hunsaker was also a force on defense, O’Brien said.
“With Sam, nobody can get around his edge,” O’Brien said. “Brandon was simply a beast on the D-line.”
In the championship game on Sunday, Columbia’s Cash Bailey made an interception on the first play of the second half and ran it all the way in from 60-plus yards out to turn the tide in the Blue Jays’ favor.
The team was trailing 6-0 to Freeburg at halftime.
Watch for these players to make names for themselves on the Columbia High School turf in the coming seasons.
Meanwhile, O’Brien has a new, much younger crop of future Eagles to cultivate.