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Falcons try to slip into playoffs; West Point, New Hope on road

 

Adam Minichino

 

The playoff picture could come into focus tonight for a handful of local teams. 

 

In the Mississippi High School Activities Association, Columbus (3-6, 1-4 Class 6A, Region 1) needs to win tonight at home against Olive Branch and next week at Starkville to help force a multi-team logjam behind leader and Class 6A state champion South Panola that could allow it to earn a tiebreaker and sneak into the playoffs. 

 

A multitude of mistakes and penalties contributed to Columbus'' undoing last week in a 3-0 loss at Horn Lake. Coach Tony Stanford said his team, which defeated DeSoto Central one week earlier, didn''t have a solid week of preparation and paid for it last week. 

 

"Last week, they were not concentrating on what they were doing and they were lackadaisical," Stanford said. "This week, they are focused and trying to learn everything we''re trying to teach them on the field. I think we have rebounded well. We have really changed our attitude." 

 

Stanford isn''t sure how that will play out tonight against Olive Branch (5-4, 3-2), one of four teams that is tied for second in the region. Stanford and his coaches had told the players they needed to win the final four regular-season games to qualify for the playoffs. Things changed along the way, but the Falcons still have a shot, and Stanford hopes his team can do its part to keep the playoff picture muddled. 

 

"We still have a shot, and I think that''s why the kids have responded like they did," Stanford said.  

 

In Class 5A, defending state champion West Point (8-1, 5-0) travels to Clarksdale (4-5, 2-3) for a chance to clinch the top spot in Class 5A, Region 1. New Hope (6-3, 4-1) travels to Hernando (6-4, 3-2) hoping to earn a victory that would enable it to secure second place in the region and the right to play host to a first-round playoff game. A loss would leave the race for the region''s four playoff spots wide open entering the final week of the regular season. 

 

New Hope coach Michael Bradley hopes his team can build off the momentum of its 36-29 double-overtime win last week against Clarksdale. The Trojans rallied from a two-touchdown deficit with a little more than four minutes remaining in the game to force overtime. 

 

A three-plus hour bus ride to Hernando isn''t the best preparation for a game, but Bradley said his players know the significance of tonight''s game and should be ready to go. 

 

"They''re a pretty good team," Bradley said of Hernando. "They lost to Lake Cormorant and to Oxford and could easily be 5-0. They present a lot of matchup problems for us." 

 

Bradley said the Trojans will try to arrive in plenty of time so the players can get their legs back under them. Once that happens, he hopes senior running back Terrance Dentry, who returned to the lineup last week after getting hurt on the first play of the game against West Point last month, will be able to play a bigger role. 

 

"I expect our guys to go up there and play well (tonight)," Bradley said. 

 

In Class 2A, Hamilton travels to North Carrollton to play J.Z. George (3-7). Both teams are 1-3 in Region 2. The winner of tonight''s game will earn the fourth playoff spot behind East Webster, Eupora and West Lowndes. 

 

In the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, Oak Hill Academy (3-7, 1-1 Class AA, District 2) needs to win at district leader Winston Academy (5-4, 2-0) to force a three-way tie with Manchester Academy. The Raiders have to win by seven points to get into the playoffs and by 15 to win the division. 

 

Oak Hill Academy Leroy Gregg knows that will be a daunting challenge for his team, which is coming off a 35-7 loss against Marshall Academy, but he said the Raiders are capable, even after what he called "the worst football practice of any team" he has been associated with on Wednesday. 

 

"If we tackle and take care of the ball I think we''ll be OK," Gregg said. "It is imperative we eat time off that clock and maintain ball possession." 

 

Gregg said Oak Hill Academy will have to rely on the one-two punch of running backs Doss Miller and Bo Sanford to keep the ball away from Winston Academy''s high-powered passing attack. He said the Patriots have at least six kids who can go 80 yards or make big plays. 

 

The health of center Cole Fowler should be a key. Gregg said Fowler has battled sickness this week but that he should be ready to play tonight. 

 

"They''re a deeply talented team," Gregg said. "For us to have success we have to keep that quarterback (Tyler Sullivan) off the field."

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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