COLUMBIA TWP. — Columbia had been to the postseason two of the last three years, winning the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division title each time and hosting a first-round postseason game last season.
But never had the Raiders gone 10-0.
Riding the running of senior tailback Jacob Kleinhenz, who gained 190 yards on 27 carries and scored four of his team’s seven touchdowns, Columbia gave its home fans one last regular-season thrill with a 49-22 victory over Clearview on Friday night.
Unofficially, Columbia clinches the top seed in Division V, Region 16 and will host a first-round playoff game for the second year in a row. The Raiders also clinched the outright PAC championship with a 7-0 record. Clearview’s disappointing season ends at 4-6, 2-5.
“It’s a great feeling, it really is,” Columbia coach Jason Ward said. “I can’t even describe it. A lot of hard work goes into this, a lot of time, a lot of energy. These guys sacrificed a lot to do this. They worked their tails off since January. A lot of these guys are back from last year’s (9-1) team, so it’s a great feeling.”
Kleinhenz scored his first touchdown on his final carry of the first half, a 36-yard run that put the Raiders up 21-0 with 5:58 left in the second quarter. At that point, he had 95 yards on 11 carries.
Taking a 21-6 lead into the second half, the Raiders kept calling Kleinhenz’s number, and time and time again he delivered. He gained 95 yards on 16 second-half carries and scored three more touchdowns to help put away the game.
“I told Jacob earlier in the day that we were going to get behind him tonight,” Ward said. “I said, ‘What’s your goal on carries?’ He said, ‘Probably 15-to-20.’ I said, ‘You’ll probably get more than that.’ We knew it was going to be that kind of game, and he delivered big-time for us.
“You don’t go 10-0 without great players, and Jacob is certainly one of those great players. To have that performance on Senior Night is something I’m sure he’ll always remember.”
Kleinhenz’s 3-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter increased the lead to 35-14 and kick-started a 21-point fourth-quarter outburst that cemented the big win. He added a 9-yard touchdown with 5:58 left in the game.
“Obviously, we had a big passing game last week, but we’ve got so many good players, it’s good to show we can beat teams in different ways,” Kleinhenz said. “Clearly, when we ask someone to (carry the load), we’ve got to come through with it.”
However, it was a deep pass early in the game that set the tone. Senior quarterback Jay Banyasz, who threw for 206 yards on a 10-for-14 day, found sophomore Jesse Lambert wide open on a post route down the middle. Lambert took it the rest of the way for a 75-yard touchdown, giving Columbia a 7-0 lead.
“Jacob is a hard worker, whether he’s getting the carries or not,” said Banyasz, who added 23 yards on six carries. “He’s definitely working hard every play of every game. Our offensive line helped us out a lot, too. Jacob played a heck of a game.”
It was tough going for the Clearview offense. Junior quarterback Roger Engle was harassed all night by the Raiders’ pressure and was sacked seven times. He did throw second-half touchdowns to Alex Pearson and Lance Billings, and senior running back Emaje Payton gained 108 yards on 24 carries.
“Columbia’s a great football team,” Clearview coach Mike Collier said. “There’s a reason why they’re 10-0, and I think they can do a lot of damage in the postseason. Coach Ward has them playing good football and they have a lot of good players on their side.
“Our kids battled and tried to keep coming back. I’m proud of our kids the way they battled. We’ve got to fix some things in the offseason, but I’m already excited to get back to work for next year.”
The Raiders will enjoy this historic undefeated season but will be back to work Monday to prepare for the playoffs.
“We’re the best to walk the halls right now,” Kleinhenz said. “It doesn’t get any better that. It just doesn’t. We know what (hosting a playoff game) is going to be like. We’re going to prepare this week and we’re going to be ready for that atmosphere.”
HONORED: Before the game, players and coaches from the softball state runner-up team were honored and presented with the banner that will hang in the Columbia gym.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.