Columbus High School senior wide receiver Jervorius Vance tries to escape a tackle Thursday night against West Point. Vance had two catches for 7 yards in a season-opening loss at home. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
August 17, 2018 10:48:10 AM
Columbus High School first-year head football coach Eric Rice hasn't shied away from discussing the difficulty of his team's schedule.
Columbus will play three of this season's most highly regarded teams -- West Point, Noxubee County, and Starkville -- in the first three weeks of the 2018 season. Those teams combined to win 39 games last season, three Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) North State championships, and two state titles.
"It's a grind," Rice said. "You don't use the schedule as an excuse. You use it to make you better. It is the most difficult three-game stretch you can find. It will make you grow up."
The lessons began Thursday night with a 55-6 loss to West Point before a near-capacity crowd at Falcon Field.
"This team was not prepared to play," Rice said. "As the head coach I take full responsibility for our level of preparedness. We just weren't ready to go. We will get that fixed and come out next time with a better effort.
"That is not to take away from the best Class 5A program in the state. Coach (Chris) Chambless has set a standard there. This is the type of challenge we need to not only accept but to rise up and meet."
Last season, Columbus struggled to maintain any rhythm on offense. The Falcons were slowed by injuries and inadequate play on the offensive line.
Columbus players have insisted the offense will be better this season. The wait for that improvement will least at least one more week.
Columbus finished with 162 yards and nine first downs. The touchdown was a 33-yard pass from Jaelan Craddieth to Matthew Harris. That play capped a 65-yard, 10-play drive but took place with Columbus trailing 49-0.
"We weren't physical enough," Rice said. "It starts on the offensive line. I think that was the biggest surprise. I thought we would compete a little better along the line. We were beaten at the line of scrimmage, and that made it hard to get the offense going."
Columbus kept penalties to a minimum. In his third career start, Craddieth was 5-for-15 for 58 yards. He threw two interceptions off his back foot into traffic.
"You watch the film and list your corrections," Rice said. "Then that's it. You come out Monday ready to go with a new week. You want to challenge the team to start over and to focus on that week's preparation and that week's opponent (Noxubee County at home).
"The kids played hard and competed for four quarters. That's a good thing. That makes it easier to come back out and start all over Monday."
Columbus was held to two first downs in the first half. West Point scored on all five first-half possessions and led 35-0 at halftime.
Ten backs combined to rush for 399 yards to lead West Point.
"They established their will at the line of scrimmage," Rice said. "We couldn't put together the drives we needed to be competitive."
Instead, West Point pieced together four first-half scoring drives of 63 yards or more.
"There is a lot of football left," Rice said. "You tip your hat to West Point. They are clearly going be the team to beat in (Class) 5A again this year. Now, we go back to work and find a way to do things more consistently next week."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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