In a wild first round Class 4A playoff game that went down to the wire, Althoff escaped Columbia with a 41-35 win on Saturday afternoon.
It was the second straight season the Eagles fell at home to the Crusaders in the postseason, but it looked early on as if Columbia would avenge the 2013 defeat.
Eagles quarterback Jacob Hill — who would finish with amazing numbers in his final game — connected with Chris Wagner on a 40-yard pass play on the very first play from scrimmage. That was followed up by a 29-yard touchdown run by senior running back Lou Isringhaus at 11:22 of the first quarter.
After Althoff was forced to punt, Columbia drove down and scored again. Brendan Wilhelm caught a 23-yard pass, followed by a 17-yard run by Hill to key the drive. The Eagles were going to settle for a short field goal, but an offsides penalty on the Crusaders made it fourth and a yard, so Columbia went for it and Isringhaus hit paydirt for the 14-0 lead.
A fumble by the Crusaders on the ensuing kickoff resulted in Columbia getting the ball right back again, but kicker Greg Long just missed from 40 yards out.
Rather than succumb to the early deficit and cheers from the excited Columbia faithful, Althoff’s athletic talent seemed to rise up to the challenge. The Crusaders, led on offense by Waterloo native Jordan Augustine, put together a strong drive that ended with a 25-yard TD run by Jaylon Bester to make it 14-7 with 2:48 remaining in the first.
Both teams exchanged punts and turnovers through much of the second quarter until Althoff’s Cody Harris picked off a pass from Hill deep in Columbia territory and ran it back for the score to tie the game at 14.
The Eagles regrouped to close out the half strong. Hill hit Lamont Read for a 30-yard pass, then Hill scampered 44 yards to the 3-yard line. Isringhaus punched it in from there and it was 21-14 Eagles at the half.
Althoff took the opening possession of the third quarter all the way to the end zone, as running back Malik Easley scored on a 41-yard run to tie it again, 21-21.
The game went back and forth from there, as Hill ripped off runs of 11 and 28 to give his team a 28-21 lead at 7:48. Just 39 seconds later, Easley scampered down the field for big yardage and Augustine ran it in to tie it again.
Althoff went ahead for the first time on a 28-yard field goal by Donovan Gagen at 2:38 of the third quarter, 31-28.
Hill willed his team down the field on the next drive, starting with a 30-yard run. He then hit Isringhaus on a big third-and-14 pass play, and then ran it in from 14 yards out to give Columbia the lead at 35-31 heading into the final quarter.
A 38-yard reception by Althoff receiver CJ Coldon put the Crusaders back in business early in the fourth, and following a 10-yard reception by Coldon, Augustine hit receiver Jordan Goodwin for a 10-yard TD to make it 38-35 Althoff at 10:01.
Columbia was forced to punt, and with 6:07 remaining in the game, the Crusaders put together a solid offensive drive that chewed up precious time and resulted in a 32-yard field goal to put Althoff up 41-35 with 2:36 remaining.
A last-ditch effort by the Eagles came up just short. Hill scampered ahead for runs of six and 11 yards, and hit Reed for a first down, then Wilhelm to put the ball at Althoff’s 27-yard line in the final minute.
But there would be no magical comeback victory for the Eagles, as a fumble on a fourth-and-20 play spelled the end to their season.
Hill finished with 18-of-32 passing for 287 yards and added 162 rushing yards on 16 carries. Isringhaus finished with 46 yards rushing on 15 carries and 79 yards receiving on six catches.
Columbia (8-2) falls to 1-3 in Class 4A home playoff games and 1-4 against private schools in the playoffs.