October 6, 2013 1:38:31 AM
Columbus High School senior Corey Brown knew he and his defensive mates needed to play batter.
Smith made sure that happened Friday night.
Despite surrendering a few big plays, Columbus made a few in a 44-29 victory against Clinton in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Region 2 game at Falcon Field.
"Even though there are five games left (in the regular season), we knew this was the one we really needed badly," Brown said.
Brown had three sacks and a fumble recovery. He iced the game by returning an onside kick 50 yards for a touchdown in the final minute.
"That was a lot of fun," Brown said of his kick return. "Scoring on a kick return is never in my plans, but I was in there to help us get the recovery. When I fielded the ball, I saw no one in front of me."
Columbus improved to 3-3 and 1-1 in region play. After a 35-13 region loss to Starkville last week, Columbus knew the significance of going 0-2 in the region and snapping a two-game losing streak.
"You don't want to overstate the importance of one game, but this was one that was really important," Columbus coach Tony Stanford said. "We made some of the same mistakes we have made all season. It is easier to go about the corrections after you win though."
Clinton (1-5, 0-2) looked to be right tonic to help get Columbus back on track. The Arrows started a bevy of sophomores and a 14-year-old quarterback, freshman Cam Akers. Still, the Arrows have plenty of speed. With youth being glaringly obvious, Clinton committed eight penalties and three turnovers, but it also hit Columbus for two scoring plays of 69 yards or greater.
"It was not the perfect game on defense by any stretch," Columbus sophomore defensive back Kiren Sharp said. "But we made some really big plays. It felt good to go back out there, compete, play hard, and to forget about last week."
A critical personal foul penalty set Columbus up for a 42-yard field goal by Anthony Maleta to end the first half. While Columbus hadn't excelled on offense, it felt good to lead 16-7 at halftime.
Against Starkville, the teams were tied 7-7 at halftime. The Yellow Jackets scored on two of three possessions in the third quarter to seize control. This time, Columbus reversed the script with back-to-back scores.
After a 41-yard kick return to start the game, Sharp read a screen pass attempt and went 43 yards with an interception return that helped make it 30-7.
"Clinton has some really great speed," Stanford said. "Speed will make up for a lot of your mistakes. We lost containment a couple of times in the third quarter and again in the fourth quarter. Our defense in the first half was outstanding, and that really set the tone for the game."
Clinton scored twice in a stretch of two minutes. Jalon Kingston returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown, bringing the deficit to 30-22. Kingston, a rare senior, had four touchdowns, including three pass receptions from Akers.
Columbus answered when Trace Lee hit Rod Hogan with a 72-yard scoring strike. Hogan may have made the most impressive play of the season, as he flipped over two defenders and broke three tackles to convert a third-and-8.
"We didn't make plays last week," Hogan said. "We probably came out and had our best week of practice this week. We know we are good team but things weren't happening for us. It feels good to score 44 points and to get this type of win."
The final four touchdowns were 50 yards or greater. The game included a kickoff return touchdown (Brown for 50 yards), a punt return touchdown (Kingston for 69 yards), and an interception return touchdown (Sharp for 43 yards).
Kendrick Conner ran for a game-high 116 yards and three touchdowns for the Falcons.
"We survived. That is about all you can say," Stanford said. "When we come here and get back to work on Monday, we will feel a lot better than we did last Monday. That is for sure."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
1. Sykes' faith leads him to coach at Starkville Academy HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Mangum wins SEC batting title COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Former Bulldog Freitas qualifies for Olympics LOCAL SPORTS