September 22, 2013 1:18:24 AM
LOUISVILLE -- When Columbus High School football coach Tony Stanford broke down his 2013 schedule, he knew the Falcons would face four challenges to start the season.
"We are 2-2 and that is a good start," Stanford said. "You want to win every game, but I really like what I have seen from this team. They are a resilient bunch, and they will bounce back. I told them we are 0-0 in region play and that is what matters now. Everything that we have done now -- the good and the bad -- does not matter now."
Columbus completed its non-region schedule Friday with a 21-10 loss to Class 3A favorite Louisville on a rain-soaked night at R.E. Hinze Stadium.
Columbus was coming off a 41-14 victory against West Point. While no acknowledgment of a letdown took place, it was obvious the Falcons were a step slower. Playing in a thickening mud bath didn't help matters, either.
"You expect some turnovers and some sloppy play in conditions like this," Stanford said. "I was kind of surprised both teams held on to the ball as much as they did. We had three turnovers -- a fumble and Trace (Lee) threw two interceptions. That small margin of error can turn a big play into a bad play. We fell victim to that tonight."
Stanford and Louisville coach M.C. Miller admitted an early lead is huge in less than perfect conditions. The Wildcats struck for a 93-yard kickoff return by Demarcus Brooks on the opening play. Louisville also had another 50-yard kick return later in the game.
Stanford said such issues would be addressed before the Class 6A, Region 2 opener against Starkville, adding that the Falcons' kick return coverage was possibly the worst he has been involved with in a lengthy coaching career.
"The mistakes are correctable," Stanford said. "We just have to change the way we are doing a few things."
Columbus trailed 14-0 in the first quarter but then launched a serious threat. Thanks to a 32-yard pass-and-catch from Lee to Rod Hogan, Columbus moved to the Louisville 4-yard line. A bad handoff led to a fumble and a Louisville recovery at the 1-yard line.
"We had a couple of bad plays on offense," Columbus senior running back Kevin Jackson said. "On nights like tonight, every play is that much more important. It felt like we were running uphill all night."
Midway through the second quarter, a bank of lights on the home side blew, leaving one end zone less than 50 percent lit. The Falcons were driving into that end zone late in the half. This time, Lee underthrew an intended target and was intercepted by Darrius Dora.
The turnover left Columbus trailing 14-0 at halftime.
"We have played really well at times," Stanford said. "Our margin for error is still quite small against the really elite teams. Louisville has an outstanding defense, so we knew it would be a challenge."
Any hopes for a comeback took a major hit early in the second half.
The Falcons moved the first possession of the second half 55 yards on 12 plays for a 29-yard field goal by Anthony Maleta. However, Lee left the game after his right leg was rolled up on by a defender as he headed out of bounds at the Louisville 40-yard line.
Post-game Lee was wearing a knee brace, but he said he would be good to go for the Starkville game.
After the injury, Jackson was pressed back into service and did another admirable job leading the offense.
Columbus finished with 15 first downs and 294 yards -- good numbers on a wet night. However, the Falcons couldn't close the gap.
Maleta missed wide left on a 45-yard field goal try late in the third quarter. Columbus didn't find the end zone until Damian Moore scrambled in from 4 yards out with 21 seconds remaining.
"We know our capabilities," Jackson said. "We just have to forget about this one and move on to Starkville. Even though it is our first region game, it is very big. It can help define the season."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter