October 1, 2010 10:03:00 AM
A year ago, the Columbus High School football team nearly worked itself out of a hole.
The Falcons lost to Tupelo, Southaven and South Panola before righting the ship with wins against DeSoto Central and Horn Lake.
Unfortunately, a loss to Olive Branch and a 29-28 loss to Starkville in the regular-season finale ruined any chances Columbus had of making the playoffs.
This season, the improvement of programs like Starkville, Tupelo and Southaven, Columbus'' opponent at 7 tonight, means the Falcons (2-3, 0-1 Class 6A, Region 1) have less room for error if they want to be one of the top four teams in the district to advance to the postseason.
An 0-2 start in region play could prove disastrous for Columbus, which will travel next week to defending Class 6A state champion South Panola.
Columbus coach Tony Stanford feels the Falcons had about as good a week in practice as they have had all season. The Falcons will need to be ready for a Southaven team that is 5-0 and coming off a 20-17 victory against Olive Branch.
"We have been trying to figure out ways to pressure their quarterback (Dominique Harris)," Stanford said of the 6-foot-5 senior. "He throws real well and is the best (quarterback) we have played all year."
Harris has thrown 17 touchdown passes and only one interception and has 1,126 passing yards. Wide receivers Tysean Norris (11 catches, six touchdowns) and Anthony Williams (10 catches, five touchdowns) are Harris'' two primary weapons.
Stanford feels Harris is "90 percent" of Southaven''s offense, which is why his defense will need to contain him and to pressure him into making mistakes.
On offense, Stanford said the Falcons will rely on junior quarterback Cedrick Jackson and junior running back Damian Baker. Both worked well last week in the read option in a 21-14 loss at Tupelo.
"(Cedrick) is improving with every ballgame. He just needs to play because he has to make a lot of reads," Stanford said. "There probably is not a play where he doesn''t have a read to make so he has to decide to give the ball to Damian or to pull it."
Stanford feels Jackson, who injured his ankle in a jamboree in August and missed the Falcons'' first two games of the season, has improved to 60 percent effectiveness at running the read option. He said no quarterback will ever get to 100 percent, and that he remains confident Jackson will continue to improve.
The development of other wide receivers to complement junior Deontae Jones, who was double-teamed last week against Tupelo, will help take the pressure off Baker, Jackson, and Jones.
Columbus will need someone to emerge because Southaven has allowed only 49 points.
"We have preached all week that it would be nice to knock off the No. 5 team in the state and see what we can do from there," Stanford said. "Our goal all year is to try to improve each ballgame, and we feel like we have done that. If we do that (tonight) I feel we have a chance to win the game."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.