August 16, 2014 7:00:45 PM
STARKVILLE -- First-year Columbus High head football coach Randal Montgomery needed someone on his defense to make a big play in the waning moments of Saturday's preseason jamboree game against Kosciusko.
Senior Josh Hibbler was that someone.
After trailing by two touchdowns entering the final five minutes of the game, Columbus had whittled Kosciusko's lead to 12-7 and forced the Whippets into a third-and-12 situation with just 31 seconds left in the two-quarter scrimmage at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium.
That's when Hibbler struck. The cornerback picked off a fluttering pass from Kosciusko quarterback Tim Wade at his own 40-yard line and raced untouched down the visitor's sideline for a 60-yard interception return, giving the Falcons an unlikely 14-12 come-from-behind win to jumpstart the 2014 season.
"All I was thinking was touchdown," said Hibbler, whose pick was the Falcons' second forced turnover of the day. "Coach is always telling us that football is a game of big plays. That was my opportunity. We have more big plays coming this year."
Hibbler's pick six completed the Falcon's comeback from 12-0 in the game's final four minutes, 41 seconds. Senior quarterback J.J. Swanigan got the Falcons on the board with just under five minutes to play with a one-yard TD run, setting the stage for Hibbler's game-winner.
"It gives us confidence, lets the guys know that you can never give up," said Montgomery, who will officially kick off his Columbus coaching career on Aug. 29 against Noxubee County. "It lets the kids know that if you keep battling, keep fighting, that good things will happen."
Good things certainly happened to the Falcons against the Whippets. Hibbler's game-winning interception return was triggered by a Columbus pass rush that got to Wade, causing a wobbly, floating pass that was easy picking for the senior defensive back. Once the ball fell into his hands, Hibbler said, "I saw nothing but green grass. I knew I had to take it all the way."
After Anthony Maleta's extra point, his second of the day, Columbus had a 14-12 lead, one that would stand over the game's final 31 seconds.
On a day when both offenses move the ball with relative ease, two turnovers by the Columbus defense ultimately made the difference, the first a fumble recovery by defensive back that stopped Kosciusko's first drive of the day and the second Hibbler's interception.
Offensively, the Falcons moved the ball efficiently from the start, moving deep into Kosciusko territory on each of their three drives. The first two drives each ended in turnovers-on-downs, however, as the Falcons couldn't quite finish.
"Early on, I think we had a case of nerves," said Montgomery. "Once we settled down and got into the flow of the game, we were fine."
Columbus posted 157 total yards in three drives, including 141 on the ground.Seven Falcons got into the act, led by wide receiver Rod Hogan, who led the way with one carry for 46 yards. That carry came in the Falcom's final drive, and it set up first-and-goal at the Kosciusko 4-yard line. Swanigan scored the first Columbus touchdown two plays later.
Kosciusko's offense was just as good, as the Whippets delivered 242 total yards in just two quarters. Kossiuscko rushed for 145 yards and passed for 97.
The Whippets opened the scoring with two minutes left in the first quarter when QB Josh Dodd found wideout Akiel Greer for an 11-yard TD pass. Kosciusko's point-after try banged off the left upright, leaving the score at 6-0.
That lead doubled to 12-0 midway through the second quarter when 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore Stefan Harmon scored from eight yards out.
"We've got the first Friday night, so this was big for us to see a good result today," said Montgomery. "Proud of the way we fought, liked the effort."
Columbus will open the 2014 season against Noxubee County on Aug. 29.
Follow Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
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