Columbus, New Hope looking for key victories

October 12, 2012 11:21:40 AM

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


The Columbus High School football team needs running backs. 


The latest round of injuries that hit Columbus last week has left it without Kendrick Conner (concussion) and Quan Latham (broken thumb) for its Class 6A, Region 1 game against DeSoto Central at 7 tonight. 


To compound matters, Columbus (4-3, 1-2 region) has had to deal with the distraction of Homecoming and fall break. Coach Tony Stanford said the disruptions have left him uncertain as to how his team will respond for a critical region matchup against an improved DeSoto Central (5-2, 1-2). 


"It is hard to say (how we will respond)," Stanford said. "For two straight weeks we have played hard and gotten beat. Our spirits are a little down, but we'll see this ballgame how it is going to turn out." 


Stanford said his team will turn to Gemriah Williams and Keith Brooks at running back in an attempt to balance the offense. He said the Falcons had good week of practice despite the typical doubts that start to creep into the minds of players after frustrating losses. Two weeks ago, Columbus lost to Southaven 17-7. Last week, South Panola edged Columbus 21-14. 


"I feel like they know what they have to do, but everything has went against us the past couple of weeks," Stanford said. "We talked the whole week that DeSoto Central has been a whole lot better and that it is going to be tough ballgame for us. If we don't play well it is going to be a long night for us." 


Columbus controls its destiny in the fight to be one of the region's top four seeds to earn a spot in the playoffs. With a victory against Tupelo, Columbus also has to play Horn Lake, Grenada, and Olive Branch to complete the region slate. Southaven, Olive Branch, and South Panola figure to be the contenders for the top three spots in the region, leaving the rest of the pack to battle for the final position. 


Stanford said Columbus has shown it can compete with all of the "heavyweight" in the region. Unfortunately, the latest injuries will impact the offense and the defense. He hopes junior quarterback Trace Lee won't have too much responsibility on his shoulders tonight, and that the Falcons will do everything they can to control the tempo, much like he felt they did last week against South Panola. 


"We probably will throw the football a little more (this week)," said Stanford, whose team threw the football 13 times for 93 yards last week. "We came out of the game feeling good and that we had controlled the game like we really want to, but we get home and find out we have a concussion and a broken thumb. We spent all week trying to figure out what we're going to do, but that is high school football. You don't usually have the numbers you need to survive, so you just keep plugging people in." 


New Hope High coach Michael Bradley has a similar problem in that his team needs a victory. While injuries have plagued Columbus, inconsistency has been the Trojans' primary dilemma. 


To make matters worse, New Hope (2-5, 0-3 Class 5A, Region 1) has to travel more than three hours today to take on Lake Cormorant (4-3, 1-2). 


New Hope is the only remaining winless team in Region 1, so every game is critical if the Trojans want to get into the postseason. 


"We tell them the cold hard truth that we need to win and play well and stop being our own worst enemy," Bradley said. "We are trying to fix ourselves and not worry about who are playing. We have to stop making so many mental and youthful mistakes that have really hurt us all year long." 


Bradley said he has seen improvement each week, but it is akin to taking three steps forward and two steps back. Once the Trojans appear to have gotten past something, another issue will pop up. He said the players continue to recognize their mistakes but need to focus better so the team can benefit from that execution. 


"We're so young in a couple of critical areas that it is kind of like a roller coaster," Bradley said. "You're going to have your good days and your bad days. We have four sophomore starters on the offensive line. We have a sophomore quarterback who played a lot of games last year, but he still is a sophomore, so it is going to be a roller coaster ride." 


With James Hill as the only returning starter on offense, New Hope has struggled to hold on to the ball and to score. Last week, Hernando shut out New Hope 19-0. Two weeks ago, New Hope had a chance to take the lead against Oxford in the fourth quarter but was unable to score in the red zone. It then missed a field goal and gave up an interception for a touchdown that sealed a 29-17 loss. 


Bradley feels Lake Cormorant is a mirror image of his squad in that both teams like to throw the football. He isn't sure how the long ride to the game will affect his team, but he knows that good thing can happen if the team can execute. 


"It is all going to come down to the leadership of our seniors," Bradley said. "If they're willing to embrace the situation and grab the bull by the horns, so to speak, and lead the way and step up to the challenge that is presented, we will have a chance to be successful. That is what we as coaches hope we decide to do, not back away from it and not make excuses and make the most of it and make it happen for ourselves."

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.