COLUMBIA CITY – Leo quarterback Jackson Barbour said his offense likes to stay on schedule. Run first, pick up four or five yards on every play. And, aside from a hastily scheduled Week 2 matchup against Class 4A No. 2 Mooresville, no one had been able to knock the Lions off kilter until Columbia City on Friday night.
“In the first half, they kept stopping us at the line,” said Barbour, a junior. “We had to make adjustments to our scheme up front with the offensive line, and I think we did a really good job, and the offensive line really stepped up in the second half.”
Leo scored two unanswered touchdowns in the second half to win 21-7, after the Lions (7-1) and Eagles (6-2) went into halftime tied. Leo is 6-0 in Northeast 8 conference play, and a win over DeKalb next week would guarantee an outright NE8 title for the first time since joining the league in 2015.
Just a few seconds into the second quarter, with the game scoreless, Columbia City quarterback Greg Bolt threw a pass intended for Garrett Geiger, but it glanced off of Geiger's hands and right to Leo senior defensive back Damien Gundakunst, who returned it to the Columbia City 26.
Leo needed a fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive, but that turnover eventually set up a key 15-yard pass from Barbour to junior wide receiver Rylan Crawford. With 7:33 to play in the first half, Crawford caught the ball as he leapt into the end zone, scoring the touchdown despite being pushed back out as he fell by the Columbia City defender.
Columbia City marched right back down the field, forcing Leo to call timeout with the Eagles threatening in the red zone with 1:39 until halftime. Two passes to Hunter Herron brought the Eagles to within about four yards of the goal line. Running back Abe Barrera was brought down inches from the goal line. Bolt then scored on a quarterback sneak the next play to tie the game at 7 with 13 seconds left.
Those final seconds were filled with drama, however. Leo mishandled the kickoff, and Columbia City's Collin Smith recovered the ball to give the Eagles another chance to score. But on the next play, Crawford intercepted Bolt in the end zone and returned the ball about 40 yards before being pushed out of bounds.
“That's a huge part of this game, turnovers,” Leo coach Jared Sauder said. “We harped on our guys before the game, you've got to have good ball security. We can't turn the ball over. So our defense did a pretty good job of forcing some of it, and we got fortunate on some of it, too.”
Sauder said Columbia City defensive lineman Landin Markins was hard to block in the first half, so they had to make halftime adjustments to stop him. The adjustments paid off quickly, as Ethan Stewart broke away for a 31-yard touchdown run at 9:44 in the third quarter. He finished with 107 rushing yards on 18 carries.
Columbia City stopped Leo on fourth down on a later drive, but Leo immediately got the ball back when Dallen Wirtz jumped on an Eagles fumble. Another fourth down conversion kept the drive alive and Leo scored its final touchdown on a keeper by Barbour with 9:24 left.