1990s Columbus

The 1990s had many football programs that were consistently very strong during these years. I discussed Menomonie and Monroe in my book. Some others were Stanley-Boyd (two state titles and one runner-up spot), Darlington (two state titles and four runner-up spots), Edgar (two titles and two runner-up spots), Lancaster (one title and one runner-up spot), Mayville (one title and two runner-up spots) and Hartland Arrowhead (three state titles). Several of these teams continued to be successful moving into the next century.


Another team that had great success was Columbus. Coach John Titus built a powerhouse and the players felt a strong sense of tradition. The 1990 state championship team started building the 1990s tradition and it became easy to keep it going. Tradition became a way of life.


Titus, his assistants and the players studied opponent's game film weekly. On their 4-4 defense it wasn’t uncommon for the Columbus players to recognize what the opponents play was coming and to yell out to the others what was about to happen. It amazed the opposition. They ran a I-Formation, no-huddle offense which was uncommon for the time. The offensive players had a laminated wrist chart and the play was called at the line of scrimmage. The players comradery was so strong that they had a weekly Thursday night gathering as one of the players would host in their home the entire team for a spaghetti dinner. After each game there would be a victory party at the coach’s house or another player’s home. The school didn’t have great facilities or a great weight room but the players and the people around the team were stayed very close which kept them playing hard not just for themselves but for each other.

The 1990 team wanted to shed the “bridesmaid” label and win the Capitol Conference title. Their last title was a shared one in 1977 (in Titus’s second season) when they tied with Waunakee. Now they wanted it all to themselves. The Cardinals marched through the season posting nine shutouts, giving up only 39 points as all-conference defensive lineman Brandy Mietzel had 18 sacks and all-conference defensive end Jeff Shilly posted another 15. On offense they scored 379 points led by three all-conference players: junior Scott Kirchberg with over 1,200 yards rushing. Senior Jeff Zittel added over 900 yards and senior quarterback Jamie Titus passed for about 1,159 yards. Other stars on the team, those that also made the All-Capitol Conference team were center/defensive lineman Joe Vole and defensive back Mark Barkow. Jeff Shilly was also all-conference as an offensive end. Their camaraderie helped build the program into a powerhouse and take home the 1990 Division 4 trophy. Since 1977 coach Titus heard the whispers that his job was in jeopardy because the team couldn’t win the conference title. Now those whispers went away with not only the conference title but the big trophy.


1991 rolled around and the Cardinals posted an 8-2 season, winning a second consecutive Capitol Conference championship and making the playoffs but losing in the first round to Mayville.


In 1992 the team roared out of the gate to an 11-0 record and a third conference title. Led by an All-State quarterback Ben McCormick who passed for 2,212 yards on 137 completions in 252 attempts and 27 touchdowns. He had only 10 interceptions on the season but five of them were in the Level 3 game against Mayville. So, the season ended with an 11-1 record, scoring 417 points and allowing only 54.


The Cards again won the championship of the Capitol Conference and swept through the 1993 regular season with a 9-0 record but lost to Viroqua to end 9-1.


In1994 the team started well and ended with a 9-2 record, winning their fifth consecutive conference championship.


In 1995 the Cardinals made it to the championship round of the playoffs losing the final game to Stanley-Boyd 21-0. After leading the Cardinals to the state title in 1990 Scott Kirchberg died in an auto accident in June 1991. He was on pace to set the school career rushing record but it was not to be. Now, four years later his brother Joe was the back-up quarterback and his team was in the finals. This team was not the high scoring 1990 team as they scored 243 points and allowed 122. Their 37-game conference winning streak ended early in the season in a 13-0 loss to Lake Mills. Junior Nate Roberts led the team with an astounding 365 carries, gaining 1,638 yards with 15 touchdowns. With the talent the team showed, even being shutout against Stanle-Boyd didn’t hold back fans from thinking 1996 would be their year.


Starting in early August, the 1996 edition Columbus Cardinals started to develop into a tough championship team. They had a chip on their shoulders and they were determined to win the title. Nate Roberts was the leader carrying the ball 380 times for 1,760 yards for 42 touchdowns. Against Westby, Roberts carried the ball 43 times for 147 yards and four scores. In one crucial drive he put the team on his shoulders and carried 13 consecutive times for 42 yards. He had 821 career carries for 3,843 yards and 57 td's. In the championship game junior linebacker Josh Burbach blocked two Stanly-Boyd punts that led to touchdowns. The Cards ended up flipping the script on Stanley-Boyd, winning 21-0 for their second state title of the decade as well as winning their seventh consecutive Capitol Conference title. Coach Titus earned AP Coach of the Year honors and Nate Roberts won honorable mention all-state.

The 1997 season brought changes to the Columbus program. Coach Titus left and Ivan Thies took over and the team posted a 9-3 record and for the first time in eight seasons the Cards finished second in the Capitol Conference. The team made it to the Level 3 round of the playoffs against Darlington. It was a strange feeling on both sidelines as the two teams had rookie coaches. Darlington’s Doug McArthur had stepped away to go into private business and left the program after posting a 13-year 117-37 record with four overall state titles and three runner-up awards. Titus posted in 21-years a 151-58 record with two state titles, one runner-up finish and eight conference titles.


In 1998 the school posted a 6-4 record and finished second in the conference.


To close out the decade the Cardinals had a 7-3 record in 1999. Over the 10 years of the 1990s the Columbus football program had a sparkling 98-18 record and made the state playoffs all 10 season. They truly had one of the best records in the state for that period.

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