MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Columbia High School Cougars moved to 2-0 with a thrilling victory over rival Millburn Millers (0-2) in their home opener on Friday night. The Cougars also celebrated “Senior Night” as their 21 graduating players were honored with a pre-game ceremony. 

“We're feeling good about just playing with the COVID-19 situation and everything that's going on in the world,” Columbia Head Coach Gary Mobley explained. “To come out here and get our second victory of the season, to open up our home schedule with a victory and get a win on senior night, what could be better?”

From the first snap of the game the Cougars were rolling, as senior quarterback Nick Aaron found an open Michael Caines for a 28 yard gain. Columbia cruised down field thanks to multiple lengthy rushes by Joseph Holdbrook, and capped off their opening drive with a two-yard rushing touchdown by Steve Henry. 

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The Millers first drive of the game resulted in a three and out, and the Cougars followed the act with a punt of their own. On the first play of Columbia’s drive, QB1 Nick Aaron went down with a leg injury that occurred the previous drive. Aaron walked off the field under his own power, but watched the remainder of the game from the sideline. 

A perfectly executed screen play from Millburn’s quarterback Luke Goldenberg to Luke Pickard picked up 44 yards and set up the Millers in the red zone. Goldenberg then found Robert Almgren on a post route for the touchdown. Millburn missed the extra point, putting them behind by one as the end of the first quarter rolled around. 

In an unusual start to the second quarter, Millburn’s kicker sent a line drive directly off the knee of a Columbia special teamer on the kickoff, and the ball ricocheted right back into the hands of the Millers. Millburn moved the chains into Columbia territory, but consistent pressure applied by Columbia’s Justin Anderson as well as a well broken up pass by Jaqhiel St. Cyr led to a turnover on downs. Replacing an injured Aaron, Kai Arrington consistently escaped pressure by running the ball, but was intercepted by Millburn in the red zone. When Millburn’s drive ended in a three and out, Cougars sophomore Steve Henry stole the show, breaking tackles and picking up six points on a 25 yard rushing touchdown, putting Columbia up by a score of 14-6.

Millburn’s Muhamad Yagoub began the Millers next drive with a bang, bringing the kickoff deep into Columbia territory, setting up a 33 yard touchdown pass from Goldenberg to Jake Zirlin. Tacking on the extra point, the Millers were within one of the Cougars. With mere seconds left in the first half Kai Arrington escaped pressure to find an open Jaqhiel St. Cyr, who took the ball 74 yards as the small crowd roared for a Columbia touchdown. 

The Cougars will be playing all home games this season in front of a very limited audience, as each senior was given only two tickets to the game for family members. Social distancing as well as mask wearing were heavily enforced. 

Both Millburn and Columbia went three and out to begin the second half. The Cougars tacked on some insurance points in their next possession, as Joseph Holdbrook took a handoff five yards into the end zone, bringing the score to its final of 28-13.

A scoreless fourth quarter for both teams was due to tremendous defense, including key pass deflections by Columbia’s Jaqhiel St. Cyr and Owen McGuffey, an interception by Rudy Lundy, as well as a clutch sack by Tristan Reynolds. 

Mobley told TAPinto SOMA that his starting quarterback Aaron’s injury is a knee sprain from a hit, but praised his squad for coming out with a victory despite being down a key performer. 

“Part of running a team is making sure that you have a backup plan… unfortunately tonight we had to pull it out,” he explained. “What impressed me the most [tonight] was overcoming adversity…I’m just glad that the team was mature enough and focused enough to get the job done.“

The Cougars next scheduled game is set for Friday night at Bellville High School.

 

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