COLUMBUS — By the end of the 2022 season, the Columbus football team had nearly its entire starting lineup wiped out due to various injuries, such as a concussion and torn ACL.
The season ended on a sour note, as the Cougars lost their final three games of the season. But that helped fuel the fire for this season.
"That's kind of the worst part of last year. They did everything right in the offseason — the camps, the lifting — it just didn't work out for us on the field. It wasn't that we did anything wrong on the field, just bad luck," Columbus head coach Blake Hoge said.
There was a silver lining to the rash of injuries, though. Several of the underclassmen on the roster played a load of meaningful snaps, which has strengthened the depth of Columbus.
"Even if they aren't starting now just because their starter is back over top of them, they have varsity reps, know what they're doing and can push us harder in practice. It worked out good for us," Columbus senior Degen Nelson said.
"Giving those guys some reps, giving them varsity minutes, they figured out what to do," Hoge said. "They're pushing us in practice and their poised to take over as soon as these guys graduate."
Fourteen Columbus seniors are hoping to finish off their high school careers in style. The Cougars finished second in the Southern B and just waxed visiting Cut Bank 54-6 in the opening round of the playoffs last weekend.
"Ever since — I started in third grade, so ever since then, Mighty Mites football in Billings. Most of us played together then, so it's good chemistry," senior Ethan Short said.
"Ever since elementary school, middle school when we'd come watch the high school games, we'd always say how we wished we could be out there playing," said senior quarterback Mason Meier.
A tall task lies ahead for Columbus, though, as it heads to two-time defending State B champion Florence-Carlton on Saturday. Columbus is 8-1 while Florence is 10-0.