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Missed opportunities costly for Falcons




TUPELO -- One more play. 


It could have been Deontae Jones'' dropped pass in the third quarter. 


It might have been Damian Baker''s 50-yard run that wasn''t long enough. 


It should have been a missed pass from Cedrick Jackson to Vidal Harris that went a half stride from being completed. 


The Columbus High School football team left the football field littered with missed opportunities Friday night in a 21-14 loss to Tupelo in the Class 6A, Region 1 opener for both teams. 


"Sooner or later we have to start winning the close ballgames," Columbus High School coach Tony Stanford said. "We played (close games) all last year, and we played them this year. I thought maybe we got by it after we were able to win a couple early, but two weeks in a row we have been beaten by a touchdown. We have got to learn to win the close ballgames. Whatever it takes. 


"I don''t think it is lack of effort. We just make some kind of mental mistake or we make a mistake that costs us the ballgame." 


Baker''s run on the Falcons'' first series of the fourth quarter is the only one of the close calls that would have directly affected the score. But the junior running back, who left the game earlier in the game with cramps, couldn''t take advantage of a block and didn''t have enough left in the tank to complete the necessary 75 yards for a touchdown that would have helped Columbus (2-3) cut Tupelo''s lead to 21-20. 


"I had one man to beat," Baker said. "I tried to read off the block and he defeated the man who was blocking him and stopped me." 


The Golden Wave wrapped up Baker (19 carries, 133 yards) and Columbus took over with a first down at the 25 with 8 minutes, 20 seconds remaining. But Columbus didn''t net any yards on three plays and failed to convert after Michael Sturdivant missed a 42-yard field goal. 


"I really thought (Baker) was (going to take it to the house)," Stanford said. "I thought Ced (Jackson) was going to make the block for him, and when he made the cutback it gave them time to catch up. If Ced could have gotten in front of him and made the block, I believe he would have made it down the sidelines and scored." 


A fumbled snap by Tupelo quarterback Luke Hobson on third-and-2 from the Golden Wave 33 forced a punt that gave Columbus a final shot. The Falcons took over on their 34 and earned a first down and gained 5 more yards on an option keeper by Jackson before a false start penalty set them right back. A sack by Devonte Quinn set up a third-and-18 at the Columbus 36. Jackson completed a screen pass to Baker for 8 yards, but his fourth-down pass to a wide open Harris near the Falcons'' sidelines went a little too far, which allowed Tupelo (4-0) to run out the clock. 


"We had plenty of chances to score," Baker said. "The defense did a great job, but we just didn''t take advantage of all of our opportunities. We just have to start finishing the game and eliminating our mistakes." 


After the series, Jackson yelled in frustration and banged heads with Harris on the sidelines. 


Stanford praised his kids for playing hard and never giving up even though they lost the battle of field position. The Falcons started seven drives at their 34 or inside that and were forced to drive the length of the field too many times. 


Columbus'' ability to erase costly penalties and to make plays in key situations will be crucial. Trailing 21-14 after a 31-yard touchdown run by Matt McIntosh, Columbus looked primed to tie the score again. Following an incompletion, Jackson lofted a perfectly thrown pass over the defender and into the arms of Jones, who cradled the ball and then dropped it. The pass play would have moved the Falcons at least to the Golden Wave 20. 


Columbus also failed to convert a scoring opportunity late in the second quarter with the game tied at 7. Randy Brown recovered a fumble to give Columbus the ball at Tupelo 33 with 2:28 to go before halftime. But a false start penalty on second down and a sack on third down stalled the drive. 


Tupelo, which used big plays in the passing game to beat New Hope 33-23 in its season opener, went back to its passing game for a go-ahead score in the third quarter. The Golden Wave capitalized on soft coverage on the right side of the field as Hobson hit Terrell Pinson on a slant. Pinson broke a tackle and outraced the rest of the defense to help make it 14-7. 


Tupelo first-year head coach David Bradberry expressed relief after earning his first district win. He said Columbus is a team that can score from anywhere on the field at anytime, which it showed Friday night. 


"Our guys made some plays when they had to and battled," Bradberry said. "We have some big-play capabilities. You would like to control it a little better, but those guys had a lot of say so about that, too." 


But Jackson and Baker were up to the task on the ensuing series. After gaining no yards on the first two downs, Baker took a screen pass from Jackson and used a block by James Gunter to race 68 yards to help tie the game. 


"(Baker) is an excellent back," Bradberry said. "They have some firepower. (Jackson and Baker) are both going to be hard to deal with." 


Stanford praised the work of Baker, saying the workhorse has run as hard as he did Friday night ever since he was a freshman. 


Unfortunately, the Falcons need more individuals to emerge to make plays when it counts. Baker said it is frustrating to be so close and not to get any victories from all of the hard work. 


"We had plenty of chances to score," Baker said. "The defense did a great job, but we just didn''t take advantage of all of our opportunities. We just have to start finishing the game and eliminating our mistakes." 


"We are very close. Mistakes like that, dropped balls, can cost you the game. This is my junior year and I haven''t had that many wins since I have been on the team. We just have to learn how to finish these games and start to win more." 


Stanford agrees the Falcons are close and that they need to take the next step. 


"We''re going to kick the door down sooner or later and have a good football team," Stanford said. "We''re just a few plays from being 5-0. I don''t think our kids are going to quit. They''re going to keep playing every Friday night, and sooner or later we''re going to start winning some ballgames." 








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