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Defensive stand turns momentum for Columbus

 

Adam Minichino

 

There was no doubt in Randy Brown''s mind. 

 

Faced with the prospect of taking on a New Hope High School goal-line package on fourth-and-1 at his team''s 20, Brown knew Columbus High would make a stand. 

 

There was no way Brown could see what would transpire after that stop. 

 

The stalemate at the line of scrimmage turned the momentum in a tied game and helped send Columbus on a 25-point scoring spree that helped it earn a 39-22 victory against New Hope before a standing-room-only crowd at Trojan Field. 

 

The packed house watched as Columbus (2-1) then worked more fourth-down magic. Stalled on a fourth-and-6 from the New Hope 8, Columbus lined up to attempt a 23-yard field goal. But Brown, the holder, took the snap and won a footrace to the right corner of the end zone to ignite the uprising. 

 

"We were faking all the way," Columbus first-year head coach Tony Stanford said. "We have about four different fakes off extra points that we work on, and all I do is signal it in from the sideline." 

 

Stanford called for the fake even though the Falcons had converted two key third downs on the drive following the defensive stand. Running back Damian Baker (game-high 155 yards) also had 28 yards on five carries to help move Columbus to the doorstep. 

 

Brown then did his part to kick the door down. 

 

"He is just an athlete," Stanford said. "He knows what to look for, and he is a good enough athlete that if he doesn''t have a pass he can take it to the corner, and he ran it in." 

 

Columbus missed the extra point, but the spark eventually turned into an inferno. New Hope (1-2) fumbled on the fourth play of the ensuing drive to set Columbus up at the Trojans'' 24 with 8 minutes, 6 seconds to play in the game. Following a New Hope offsides penalty, Baker worked 17 yards on three carries. The final one, a 4-yard push, helped make it 26-14. 

 

"It means a lot," Baker said of the victory. "We finally came together and made plays and eliminated the mental and physical mistakes that we usually made in the past." 

 

Baker sat out his team''s game against Noxubee County on Aug. 27. The Falcons had an off week last week after West Point High was forced to cancel its scheduled game against Columbus. The week without a game apparently helped Baker and several Falcons make a quick recovery because Stanford said earlier in the week they wouldn''t play against New Hope. 

 

But Baker said Friday night he was told Tuesday he definitely would play against New Hope. He made the most of his opportunity, running hard behind a stout offensive line. 

 

Baker was just one of the players who returned to the lineup. Junior quarterback Cedrick Jackson, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Columbus'' jamboree victory against Brandon on Aug. 14 at Mississippi State''s Davis Wade Stadium, also wasn''t supposed to play, according to Stanford, but he started and showed strong leadership. The right-hander, who is in his first season as varsity starter, was 13 of 18 for 178 yards and three touchdowns. 

 

"It seemed like everybody had the right mind to win and to work as a team to get better and not to give up," Jackson said. 

 

Leading 26-14, Columbus'' Tim Hudgins sacked quarterback Zak Thrasher on fourth-and-10 from the New Hope 35 on the next series. Two plays later, Jackson connected with Deontae Jones on a quick-hitting 13-yard scoring strike to help make it 32-14. 

 

Jackson had his ankles wrapped Friday to give him added protection, but he said he felt great and had a lot of adrenaline after missing the Falcons'' first two games. 

 

"I felt great throughout the week in practice and didn''t feel any pain or soreness, so I knew I was ready to go," Jackson said. 

 

Things got worse for New Hope. 

 

Brown intercepted a Thrasher pass on first-and-10 from the New Hope 40 on the first play of the next drive. Seven plays later, Anturio Brooks caught a 9-yard scoring pass from Jackson to cap the barrage with 2:23 remaining. 

 

Jackson said Columbus, which has won one and three games the past two seasons, hopes to get a huge lift from a victory against last season''s Class 5A North Half runner-up. He said the Falcons will be ready to get back to work today to build on the effort. 

 

"New Hope is a big rivalry," Jackson said. "When we found out we were playing them, we knew we had to beat them. This is for bragging rights, and it is going to help us hold our heads up high." 

 

Brown said the victory is going to make the Falcons work harder and "is going to make us play like champions." He credited the defense for making a stand on the fourth-down play in the third quarter that helped turn the tide. 

 

"We went heavy and changed our defense," Brown said. "We just stuffed them. We got penetration off the ball and they moved them back. It was a big play. It lifted us up, and after that it was just lights out." 

 

Stanford, who was an assistant coach for Bubba Davis the past two years and took over the program earlier this year when Davis retired, hopes his team will continue to get healthy. Sophomore Quan Latham and senior Ian Williams played Friday even though Stanford said they wouldn''t, and Stanford said Friday he expects more of the injured Falcons to return this week. 

 

As much as the victory is for bragging rights, Stanford said Columbus can''t get too high, especially with a difficult Class 6A, Region 1 schedule ahead of it. 

 

"It just means we got a victory," Stanford said. "We''re trying to build our program. Every time we get a victory we feel like we''re improving. They have a good football team. They make the playoffs every year. They have their program built, and we''re trying to build ours." 

 

Stanford said the turnovers in the second half were the difference. He said momentum-changing plays like those have gone against the Falcons the past two seasons. On Friday, he said the ball bounced his team''s way and he felt the Falcons were a little more physical than the Trojans in the second half. 

 

New Hope coach Michael Bradley credited Columbus for making a big play on fourth down in the third quarter. He felt the Trojans called their best play and used one of their best players (Johnny Beamon), but the result wasn''t close to getting a first down. 

 

"Football comes down to a few big plays," Bradley said. "They made them and we didn''t. After that, we dropped a couple of passes and things just kind of snowballed on us and went downhill. We have to learn from this. We have to learn when the game is on the table plays have to be made and we need to step up and make them." 

 

Bradley blamed himself for the team''s sluggish play on offense. Senior running back Terrance Dentry rushed for 109 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown in the first half, but New Hope didn''t click for the third game in a row. The Trojans also committed 12 penalties for 95 yards. Many of the infractions came on holding calls. 

 

"Something is not right," Bradley said. "We''re going to have to find it. We''re going to have to put this behind us and get ready for next week." 

 

Like Stanford, Bradley hopes his players keep the loss in perspective. While it is painful to lose a rivalry game, Bradley knows his team has one more game -- next week against Caledonia -- before it enters its Class 5A, Region 1 play. That''s where its fate will be determined. 

 

"It was a big gamble (to play Columbus) that didn''t pay off," Bradley said. "Hopefully we can learn from the things we did wrong and move on and remember the division schedule is what is important."

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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