November 2, 2012 10:47:08 AM
A victory is all Tony Stanford has on his mind.
If the Columbus High School football team (6-4, 3-3 Class 6A, Region 1) can go on the road at 7 tonight and beat Grenada (4-6, 2-4), Stanford won't have to worry about tiebreakers and point differentials.
A year ago, Columbus finished in a three-way tie for the fourth and final playoff spot from Region 1 but lost out on a tiebreaker.
This season, Columbus has its destiny in its hands. All it needs to do is win.
Stanford said he hasn't even thought about what would happen if DeSoto Central lost to South Panola 42-21 on Thursday and was eliminated from the playoff race. Tupelo (4-6, 2-4) could forge a three-way tie if it wins at Olive Branch and Columbus loses. But Stanford said the Falcons would come out on the short end of that equation, which is why he wants his players focused only on a victory.
"We feel good about it. We think we have a good chance to win the ballgame and get in," Stanford said. "The kids have a lot of confidence because they have played with the top three teams in the region (South Panola, Olive Branch, and Southaven) and feel they can play with these other teams and get into the playoffs and see if we can advance from there."
Stanford didn't hesitate to say tonight's game is the biggest in his three years as head coach of the program. He spent two seasons as an assistant coach under Bubba Davis, laying the foundation for a program that is in position to have its second winning season in a row. A victory would help secure that fact.
"We have played hard enough and we deserve to get in the playoffs," Stanford said. "This is a big game for us. We have gotten closer each year and we have always had to have help or win by so many points. This year, there are no points. If you win the ballgame you're in."
Stanford feels even more optimistic considering his team has fought through a rash of injuries and is in this spot. He said Thursday the Falcons expect to have senior Quan Latham back from an injury. He said the cornerback/running back figures to spend more time on offense tonight to help give running back Kendrick Conner a rest and to give quarterback Trace Lee another option in the passing game.
"We have had people step up every time we have had an injury and have been able to survive," Stanford said. "That is all we want, is for the kids to play as hard as they can and to survive and advance to the next ballgame.
"I can't complain with the effort. Going into the season, nobody expected us to be any good. But the kids have played hard and we could end up with the same record. I think we have accomplished a lot."
Stanford would like to add an exclamation point to that statement after getting a seventh victory. From there, who knows what will happen, but he will be secure in the knowledge that Columbus is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
"The attitude all week at practice is we're going to win the ballgame," Stanford said. "That's the way they feel, and that's the way I think they're going to play."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.