October 20, 2013 2:08:44 AM
Columbus High School senior running back Kendrick Conner made a suggestion at halftime Friday night.
The Falcons were mired in a six-quarter stretch of weak offensive play. Conner suggested some play-action passing in the second half of his team's Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Region 2 game against Greenville-Weston.
Suddenly, the Falcons found a rhythm. Columbus scored four third-quarter touchdowns and wound up celebrating Homecoming with a 37-7 victory.
"Sometimes the best suggestions come from the players," Columbus coach Tony Stanford said. "Kendrick said at halftime when we run they come flying up and when we pass, they are staying back. He said if we can fake it, then throw it, we have something. That is what we did in the second half, and it worked to perfection."
Columbus improved to 4-4 and 2-2 in region play. The Falcons treated the game as if it was a must-win situation. With three region games to go, Columbus knew its margin for error was small. A week ago, Columbus never found its offense in a, 13-6 setback at Northwest Rankin.
"At halftime, we went in there and had a talk," said Conner, who led Columbus with 109 rushing yards. "We decided to do some play-action because they were sending the house when they thought it was a run. We came back out amped up and ready to play. The offensive line made some blocks and that opened up some lanes."
Northwest Rankin held Columbus out of the end zone until the final three minutes of play. Greenville (1-7, 0-4) appeared on a similar path, as it led 7-2 at halftime.
"All we needed was the one little boost, then we were going to take off with it," Conner said. "We played football tonight in the second half. The first half was not too good, but when the game was on the line we came out amped up and ready to play."
Columbus' defense has been a constant throughout an up-and-down season. After holding Northwest Rankin to 70 yards of total offense, the Falcons limited the Hornets to 9 yards of total offense and two first downs.
"There are a lot of seniors on the defense, so there is a comfort level there," Columbus senior defensive end Kris Reliford said. "We know our job is to go out there and get stops. The last couple of weeks we have really played some great defense. I think it is a sign this unit has really grown up and matured. We know our assignments and we know what we have to do to win games."
Northwest Rankin managed one offensive touchdown and also scored on a punt return. Greenville-Weston scored on a 25-yard interception return by Jimmy Sims.
"The defense has been lights out," Stanford said. "They have carried us. We have been inconsistent on offense. On defense, the kids have risen to the challenge. Night in, night out, each possession they are really competing for us."
Led in part by Corey Brown, Damian Moore, and Jalen Stewart, the defense has done its best to give the offense a chance to respond. Brown had a 13-yard tackle for loss in the first half for a safety.
It took two quarters, but the offense finally got it in gear in the second half. The Falcons took the opening kickoff and needed just five plays for the go-ahead score. Trace Lee found Rod Hogan for a 15-yard pass pickup and later found Christian Petty for a 32-yard gainer. Petty capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving Columbus its first lead in two weeks.
On the next possession, a mishandled snap rolled loosely into the end zone. Reliford hopped on it there for a touchdown. At that point, the Columbus defense was outscoring both offenses in the game.
"That was fun," said Reliford, of his first touchdown of the season. "We were getting a lot of pressure on their quarterbacks, and we were just trying to make a big play. I was fortunate enough to get on it at the right time."
Columbus then drove 43 yards on seven plays to put the game away. Conner, Kevin Jackson, and Petty each had nice runs before Lee capped the drive on a 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal.
The next big defensive play came from junior safety Alex Lipscomb. Fresh off a monster game against Northwest Rankin, Lipscomb had an interception to snuff the Hornets' next threat.
"As a team, we played hard," Lipscomb said. "The thing is we know each other on defense. We have a bunch of seniors. We need to focus and finish strong. We know we can win each of these last three games and we really need to do that to make the playoffs. I am proud of this week because we fought really hard to get it."
A 4-yard run by Jackson and 6-yard run by Conner capped off the scoring for the Falcons.
"The defense does a great job for us every week," Conner said. "As an offense, we just have to find a way to keep scoring. We are going to beat these last three opponents that we play. At least that is our goal."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter