September 9, 2012 12:50:54 AM
Trace Lee has grown up around the Columbus High School football program.
His older brother, Tyson, was a quarterback at Columbus High before he moved on to Itawamba Community College and Mississippi State.
Despite having Tyson at quarterback, Columbus never established itself as a consistent football program that could compete with the state's best teams.
Trace Lee admits the 2012 Falcons still have plenty of room to grow, but he feels the effort the team showed Friday night in a 9-6 victory against New Hope at Trojan Field is a reflection of how far the team has come.
"Coach Stanford always preaches to us finish, finish, finish," Lee said. "It is something Columbus as a whole has not been doing the past couple of years. But we have continued to grow and to have confidence in each other and have learned to finish.
"We didn't start well, but we all had confidence in each other and we came out in the second half and got it done."
Columbus (2-1) overcame a fumble recovery and a return by Juan Cedano for a touchdown in the first half. On an evening in which the offense struggled to get much of anything done, the Falcons relied on their defense.
Columbus never allowed quarterback Brady Davis to look downfield, though, as it pressured him and gave him little time to throw. The Falcons only had one sack (Corey Brown), but they allowed only 61 rushing yards on 19 carries and 9 passing yards. Columbus forced New Hope into six three-and-outs and didn't allow a first down in the second half.
"We had matchup problems all over the field," New Hope coach Michael Bradley said. "We tried lining up and running right at them because we thought that might be something they wouldn't expect, and we had some degree of success doing it. But they're very physical defense. They're impressive."
New Hope started two of its second-half drives in Columbus territory and appeared to control the battle of field position. But its inability to move the ball and untimely penalties allowed Columbus to turn the field and regain the advantage.
Bradley said the lack of execution has been brewing since the season-opening victory against Louisville. He said the Trojans played one good half and a good series in the third quarter against the Wildcats en route to a 43-26 victory. Since then, though, the troubles have multiplied, and he said those "little" things have become "big" things.
"I am not disappointed with our lack of effort. We gave a lot of effort tonight. I was disappointed with the end result. I thought we kind of dictated the tempo of the ballgame, for the most part. We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory there at the end because of some big mistakes," Bradley said. "I was very pleased with the play of the defense. They played with passion, with effort, with intensity, with emotions. The defensive coaches did a great job of preparing them and had a great game plan. We just kept them on the field too long."
Columbus High defensive coordinator Brandon Brown believes his defense has the potential to be stout, too. The physical nature of the defense made New Hope's job even tougher. The Falcons, who were playing without senior Quan Latham in the secondary and senior Martavious McKinney and junior Damian Moore at linebacker, had sophomores Alex Lipscomb and Jarell Peterson at safety. Buoyed by the presence of senior cornerbacks Jimmy Cockrell and Rashad Meeks and an experienced front four, Brown knew his defense was going to answer the call.
"What really impressed me was the leadership those older guys provided to the younger guys," Brown said. "Some of the guys felt last week when things got difficult against West Point (in a 26-19 loss) we kind of backed off. They said they were not going to quit and kept believing in themselves. They have the attitude we can win defensively."
Stanford said he hopes to get all three players back from injury next week.
"A lot of times, you get them thinking about something, they are in trouble, so just let them go out there and play and have a good time," Stanford said. "You have to depend on your kids and believe in them. We're getting to that point in our program. Our kids are starting to be able to do things five years ago we couldn't do. Five years ago, we would have lost that football game. There is no doubt in my mind. We stood in there and we kept playing hard and ended up with a victory."
The truest test of Stanford's statement is so many players contributed to the victory. From Greg Sykes, who made the winning field goal to John Neal Stanback and Quavis Sherrod who filled in at linebacker, Columbus made enough big plays at the right times to earn a big win against a Lowndes County rival.
"I think we have come a long way," Stanford said. "We have people who can fill in. We had a great group graduate last year, but these kids have filled in. They have had a lot of adversity, but we are getting to where we are kind of reloading. We are not having to start completely over. We are reloading because they are out there working hard and they are in the weight room all year long. We are starting to develop a program at Columbus. I just hope they let met me stay long enough to get it accomplished."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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