September 19, 2018 11:12:18 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
Columbus High School football coach Eric Rice has talked for several weeks about his team being mentally and physically prepared for region play.
With Columbus facing the daunting task of West Point, Noxubee County and Starkville to start the season, region play had to feel like a long way off for some time.
However, Columbus will try to make amends for the first part of its season in the second half of the campaign. Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, Region 1 play begins Friday when Columbus travels to DeSoto Central.
A year ago, Columbus won one region game -- a 34-28 overtime home victory against DeSoto Central, which is why Columbus enters region play with renewed optimism. The Falcons also begin the second half of the season with a higher level of confidence.
Even though it was the fourth-straight loss to start the season, a lot of things went well in a 45-28 loss at Vicksburg.
"We just need to eliminate some mistakes," Rice said. "The kids should have some renewed confidence coming off the best outing of the season. Our margin for error is slim. I think the kids can look at the film and see we were two or three fewer mistakes away from winning."
The region race looks a little more open than it was first thought.
Horn Lake is the state's second-ranked team. The Eagles are the clear-cut favorites to win the region.
However, injuries have decimated Tupelo and Oxford. It appears South Panola isn't up to its standard level of performance, either.
Columbus needs a win, and it will feel much better about life when that happens. After that first win, a chance to make the playoffs can become a legitimate goal.
In Starkville, the task appears much easier for an MHSAA Class 6A, Region 2 championship.
Coach Chris Jones' squad is 4-0 after non-region wins against Noxubee County, Oxford, West Point, and Columbus.
You have to like the growth and maturity of sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer, the running ability of senior running back Rodrigues Clark, and the sheer dominance of the best front four in Class 6A ball.
Starkville will open its region slate Friday when it plays host to Provine.
"The confidence level is high on this team," Jones said. "They have done everything we have asked to start a solid season. The disappointment of last season (finishing second in the state) has been the driving force. It's a group that wants to finish business."
Clark has run for 488 yards and nine touchdowns. Altmyer has thrown for 698 yards and six touchdowns.
This region race may be a little more difficult to handicap.
Starkville and Clinton are 4-0, while Northwest Rankin and Madison Central are 3-1. Those are the usual participants when it comes time to break down the playoff teams from this region.
Starkville is the clear No. 1 team in the state. Barring injury, the Yellow Jackets should roll to the region crown.
In the MHSAA Class 5A, Region 1 race, the big showdown is Friday.
West Point (3-1) will play host to Lafayette (3-1) in a matchup of teams favored to battle for the region crown.
Olive Branch (4-0) figures to make a run at a first-round playoff game at home from this region as well.
A year ago, the marquee showdown was between West Point and Olive Branch. The teams met again in the postseason, with West Point winning big both times.
The Green Wave's defense appears to be the best in Class 5A. Tyler Rupert and Ryan Melton are starting blocks for a great defense. That duo has a lot of help on that side of the ball.
On offense, it is a typical West Point team. Coach Chris Chambless' preference is to run the ball. Thirteen of 17 touchdowns have come on the ground.
In a 41-0 rout of Noxubee County last Friday, West Point shook off any side effects from a loss to Starkville. That victory by the Yellow Jackets snapped the Green Wave's 30-game winning streak.
"The attitude has been great," West Point coach Chris Chambless said. "For the seniors, the past two (state) championships are not a factor. They want to leave their own mark."
West Point will carry a 20-game region winning streak into the game against Lafayette.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.