Columbus looking for first title game appearance

Columbus after their 22-21 victory over Holton (photo: Carolyn Eddington)
By: Sports in Kansas - Chet Kuplen
Nov 18, 2014

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Columbus, a town of around 3,300 people in the southeast corner of the state, has never been known as a traditional state power in football. The Titans, who are 9-13 all-time in the state playoffs in 14 total appearances, have never played in a state championship game. Their 22-21 win over Holton this past Friday put them into the state semifinals for the first time in school history. They had previously made the quarterfinals on three other occasions (1978, 1998, 2007). The win last week with seconds remaining against Holton may also be the best win in the programs history.

“We are very happy and blessed to have made it this far, but we haven’t reached our goal yet” Columbus senior quarterback Nate Bole said.

The win puts Columbus (10-1) against Santa Fe Trail (9-2) this week in the 4A-II semifinals in Columbus. Santa Fe Trail is coming off a 14-13 win over Frontenac. Frontenac knocked off Columbus in week eight of the season, their only loss.  Santa Fe Trail is in their first semifinal appearance in 18 years.

“They are a very good team, it starts with their fullback, he is just a football player,” Columbus head coach, Dan Grundy said. “I think our league schedule has definitely helped prepare us for this postseason run.”

The Titans are a run first offense with over 260 yards rushing per game, while passing for nearly 100 more per game.  Santa Fe Trail is very similar, averaging 280 yards rushing per game and nearly 90 yards passing.

The Titans rushing attack is led by junior Jace McDown, who has 1,408 rushing yards (18 TD) in 2014. McDown (83 tackles), a state wrestling champion, teams with fellow state wrestling champion, Taylor Watkins (118 tackles), and Garrett Brittain (89 tackles) to lead the Columbus defense.

The way this season has ended up for Columbus shouldn’t be a surprise. They have been ranked all season and returned a veteran group that went 8-2 and won the CNC League title in 2013. They were also the preseason CNC favorite by the league’s coaches.

Teams that are expected to win, like this years, haven’t always been the case in Columbus. The Titans had one playoff appearance each in the seventies (1978) and nineties (1998), with three more in the eighties (1981, 1982, 1984). With two playoff teams allowed per district starting in 2002, the Titans have since seen nine playoff appearances of their 14 total.

Go back 36 years ago to their first appearance in the state playoffs (1978) and you see the exact opposite of 2014.  It was a big deal at the time because the Titans were on the state’s biggest losing streak the year before. Columbus went 8-3 that season and was led by their all-state Top 11 Quarterback, Kerry Sachetta, who would sign with Oklahoma State out of high school.  The Titans, then a rare heavy passing team in the area, lost to Coffeyville and Pittsburg in the regular season before losing in the state quarterfinals to Baldwin. Dr. Sachetta, now a principal at Joplin High School, knows how big of a deal this is to Columbus.

“When we first made the playoffs it was a big deal because the previous year we were on the state’s longest losing streak,” Sachetta said. “Columbus has always been a team over the years to put together a few nice seasons, then some bad ones that follow after. That hasn’t been the case with Coach Grundy; he has done an outstanding job. I am looking forward to watching the team play this week.”

A big reason for the inconsistent seasons may have been the lopsided 4A classification over the years and how tough it was to get into the playoffs as a smaller school. The 2014 season marks the first ever year of the 4A football split, splitting the 64 4A schools into two divisions, 32 in 4A-I and 32 in 4A-II. The idea was to make a more level playing field by narrowing the ranges of enrollment. 4A schools in Kansas range in enrollment from 265 students to 756 students. Columbus has 302 through four high school grades in 2014-2015. Bishop Miege, the number one ranked team in 4A-I, has 712 kids for 2014-2015.

“In the past you could be a 4A school competing against a school two to three times your enrollment,” Sachetta said. “I think what Kansas is doing is great for schools the size of Columbus”.  

The 4A-II division may be new but it’s also new life for a lot of programs statewide. Coach Grundy also knows there are doubters about the 4A split.

“Some say it watered it down but it gives other schools that would have already lost to the Paola’s and the Louisburg’s of the past a chance,” Grundy said. “I don’t think people will be saying that in a few years when teams get that extended practice time in the playoffs and we are used this classification”

Sure 4A-II benefits the smaller schools, who may have struggled in 4A in the past, but it’s not to say that Columbus couldn’t compete or make the playoffs in the 4A-I level this season. They are for once playing against schools their own size in every week of the playoffs. In their one match-up against a larger 4A-I opponent, in old SEK league opponent, Chanute, they won 25-14.

The Columbus community is also going crazy for the Titans best season in school history. Team Threads, a custom screen printing and embroidery shop in downtown, plans to have a tailgate at their store as the community will “Paint the Town Red” this week for the Titans playoff game on Friday. They will also offer discounts on all Titan gear this week.

“It’s been all about the Titans this whole season,” Kim Brown, owner of Team Threads said. “Not only are these kids good football players, they are a great group of kids off the field. Everybody is pumped; the whole town will be at this game.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. this Friday in Columbus. The Titans are looking for their first state title appearance in the playoff era of their schools history. It would also make history with a win as it would become one of the first two teams tever to play in the 4A-II state championship. The winner would take on Andale or Holcomb in the 4A-II title game in Salina on Saturday November 29th. Columbus is also looking to replace Colgan as the last CNC league team to play for a state title (2010) and win one (2003).