October 11, 2013 11:15:30 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
It's all about the mind-set for the Columbus High School football team.
A week after Columbus coach Tony Stanford talked with his seniors about the state of the team, the Falcons responded with a victory against Clinton.
Stanford hopes the energy Columbus (3-3, 1-1 region) picked up in its first Class 6A, Region 2 victory will be able to withstand a long bus ride tonight (7) when team takes on Northwest Rankin (2-4, 0-2).
After nearly 40 years as a high school coach, Stanford knows October is the time playoff teams separate themselves from the rest of the pack. He hopes the 2013 Falcons are ready to take that step just like the 2012 group did in getting the program back to the postseason.
"We played a good first half and got kind of sloppy in the second half, but the effort was there all night," Stanford said. "That had been my worry the last couple of weeks that the effort was not what it ought to be. I thought we had good effort the whole game."
Stanford said the Falcons had a physical week and he anticipates them playing a good game. The rub is how the team handles the bus ride, which could be an equalizer. Stanford has made plenty of trips outside of his immediate area and he said has had plenty of teams go through ups and downs like this year's squad. He said the character of the ballclub -- particular the seniors -- will play a large part in determining if Columbus gets back to the playoffs. A loss to Starkville in the region means Columbus likely will shoot for the No. 2-4 seeds in Region 2. With games remaining against Greenville-Weston (home), Madison Central (away), Jackson Murrah (away), and Warren Central (home), Stanford feels the magic number for his team to earn a second-consecutive playoff berth is four. Columbus also is in line to have a third-straight winning record.
"Our senior class wants to make it again," Stanford said. "We told them when they were freshmen that they were the worst class we had ever seen. But they have turned it around, worked hard, and are going to be a good class because I think we're going to win some more ballgames."
Stanford said he has mentioned the word "playoffs" with his players. He said getting back to the playoffs was the goal when he first arrived at Columbus High as an assistant coach for Bubba Davis. The team accomplished that goal last season for the first time since 2005. Stanford said his players have to have the right mind-set if they want to help build a program he feels is as physical as any other in the state.
"Our really big goal would be to win a division, and it is not away from us yet," Stanford said. "We have the teams in front of us that we have to beat. Starkville is a little bit ahead of us, but anything can happen.
"We did stuff last year people didn't think we could do. It built a lot of confidence. Now that that bunch is seniors, I think they have enough pride that they don't want to give up what they already have worked hard for what they have accomplished. I think the early part of the season was they listened to too many people talk over the summer and let it go to the head. After a couple of losses, they decided they have to go to work because we're not going to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. I think they have got it in their head that they want to do something. We will find out."
New Hope (3-3, 1-1 Class 5A, Region 1) at Lake Cormorant (3-3, 1-1)
Shawn Gregory hopes the fine-tuning begins this weekend.
Six games into his first season as head coach at his alma mater, Gregory likes the progress the Trojans have made on both sides of the football. That doesn't mean there aren't area he would like to see improve. New Hope will try to develop greater consistency up front and in the running game at 7 tonight when his team goes on the road for a pivotal region game.
With new Hope, Lake Cormorant, Saltillo, and Lewisburg tied at 1-1, Gregory knows New Hope can earn a valuable victory when it comes time for the region's top four teams to earn playoff berths. To do that, Gregory his offensive line can come together in an effort to help showcase a talented backfield with Brandon and Brenton Spann and Bryson Ellis and quarterback Brady Davis.
"We have gotten better as the season has went on, but it is going on game seven and we are still missing some assignments up front that doesn't allow us to run the ball as often as we would like," Gregory said.
Gregory said the offensive line has dealt with injuries that have disrupted the continuity. He said the goal is to be 60-40 pass to run, but he feels the team probably has been more 70-30 in favor of the pass.
Still, Gregory feels the team hasn't played its best football. He acknowledges the team likely played its worst game in 56-21 loss at Clarksdale. New Hope responded last week with a come-from-behind 28-24 victory against Center Hill. The victory was even more impressive considering New Hope lost to Center Hill the past two seasons, including 41-0 at Center Hill in 2012. Gregory's hope is that the Trojans continue to mature so they can position themselves for a postseason run. Better play up front will be one of the things Gregory hopes will help New Hope accomplish that goal.
"I think the biggest shock that is causing a little friction up front with our line at times is the pace," Gregory said. "We're trying to get them used to it and to execute that fast. We're not real bad, but we can be a lot better. That's why I am always trying to make sure they're focused."
Noxubee County (3-3, 1-0 Class 4A, Region 4) at Leake Central (5-1, 0-1)
Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter has changed.
The Tigers have seen the difference in their coach, too, now that region play has started. While Shorter may have been a little more forgiving and patient with his players in a grueling five-game non-region slate, he expects a more discipline squad from here on out. A 9-7 victory against Kosciusko last week in the region opener highlighted how important it will be for Noxubee County to do those little things well. After battling a rash of turnovers in the first five games, Noxubee County committed only one turnover against Kosciusko. Another stout effort by the defense enabled the Tigers to use a 31-yard field goal by Zachery Kauffman to escape with the victory.
Fresh off that victory, Noxubee County will go on the road to battle a Leake Central team that suffered its first loss (18-14 to West Lauderdale) last week.
"If you fumble the football now, you're not playing anymore. It is that type of thing," Shorter said. "You're not a sophomore anymore. You're a varsity football player now, and I think the kids responded. They played really, really hard Friday. There wasn't no quit in them."
True the championship nature of the program, Shorter said the Tigers didn't hang their heads when the Whippets took a 7-6 lead after getting a short field. He credited the seniors for emerging as vocal leaders and leaders by example. The message the rest of the way is no second chances and treat every game as a playoff game. He saw some of that urgency last week, and he hopes this team can put itself in position to defend its 2012 Class 4A state title.
"I am pleased with special teams. I am pleased with the defense," Shorter said. "Offense has to come around. Once we get the offense turned around, this is going be a dangerous football team."
Last week, Shorter inserted senior Jessie Bryant at quarterback for an injured Timorrius Conner. Bryant worked at quarterback in the preseason and is back at the position after starting the season at wide receiver. Shorter gave Bryant a "B+" and said he did a solid job of managing the game and keeping the Tigers away from turnovers. His hope is that the Tigers continue to get healthy so some of their weapons will return to make things easier on Bryant.
The ability of the Tigers' running backs to become more consistent is another area of concern. Shorter said Noxubee County has plenty of options and it is time someone stepped forward in that group to be someone the offense can count on.
"All of our running backs are sophomores," Shorter said. "We have one junior, but we are pulling Eric Hunt, Mahlon Robinson, and Darrell Brandon from defense and putting them in the rotation on offense. I don't want to do that too much because I don't want to tire them out and it will hurt our defense. Our younger running backs need to get more consistent. I think that is our biggest weakness. I think we are going to have some great ones in the future, but they are young. I don't think they have caught up with the speed of the game yet."
If Noxubee County gets healthy and finds more productivity from its running backs, Shorter likes his team's chances with a defense that has kept it in every game and has responded when it has had to protect short fields.
"We are pretty healthy on defense," Shorter said. "The defense is playing really well right now."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.