September 22, 2013 1:19:32 AM
LOUISVILLE -- All Louisville High School football coach M.C. Miller wanted was a lead.
Fortunately for Miller and the Wildcats, that wish was granted 13 seconds into his team's game against Columbus on Friday night when Demarcus Brooks returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. As heavy rains enveloped R.E. Hinze Stadium, Louisville made that early score stand up in a 21-10 victory.
"On a night like this, all you want is an opportunity," Miller said. "We can't do what we want to do. They can't do what they want to do. You simply want to survive. I told the coaches around 4:30 we really needed to find a way to get a lead. I thought if we did that, we would be just fine."
After moving from Class 4A to Class 3A in the latest Mississippi High School Activities Association realignment, Louisville (5-0) has established itself as a favorite to win a state title. Louisville was a co-No. 1 in this past week's Associated Press poll for Class 3A schools.
While Friday's win will do nothing in the playoff chase, beating a Class 6A for the first time this season felt good to the Wildcats. It felt so good several Louisville players did head-first dives into the standing water behind the Louisville bench after the final horn.
"We showed tonight we are a team capable of winning in any situation," Louisville senior quarterback Wyatt Roberts said. "We knew Columbus had a real good team, so we practiced this week like this was a playoff game. It was Homecoming against a really good opponent. We wanted to make this a special game."
For Louisville, Homecoming was anything but normal. Thanks to heavy rains that fell an hour before kickoff and remained steady throughout the game an evening's worth of activities was re-arranged. The Homecoming court was presented in the gym before the kickoff.
Neither band entered the stadium, thought the Louisville band performed at Homecoming festivities in the gym and the Columbus band bussed to Winston County but never got off the bus at the stadium. The 1978 team was honored on its 35-year reunion but only a handful of spectators were there for the presentation.
On the field, Miller and his troops kept it simple after taking the lead.
"We really thought Columbus would come in here riding a high (after a 41-14 victory against West Point)," Miller said. "It is nearly impossible to get a team up two weeks in a row, so I thought they might have a little letdown. (The win against West Point) really got our attention. You could tell the kids stepped it up all week. It was Homecoming, too, so for a lot of reasons the kids wanted to put on a show."
After grabbing the lead, Louisville extended it to a 14-0 halftime advantage with an eight-play, 91-yard drive. Roberts capped it with a 6-yard keeper.
Columbus (2-2) produced a solid night on offense. However, the Falcons succumbed to the weather as they made the only three turnovers. A 71-yard advantage in total offense was offset by the giveaways, including two in the Louisville red zone.
"It was a well-played game and a pretty even game," Columbus coach Tony Stanford said. "You knew there would be turnovers and some sloppy play. We made three mistakes, and that cost us the ballgame."
The Columbus offense was also slowed in the second half when quarterback Trace Lee left the game with an apparent injury to his right leg on the first possession of the half. Lee spent the fourth quarter on the bench with an ice bag. After the game, he was in a knee brace, but he said he would be good to go for his team's Class 6A, Region 2 opener against Starkville.
For Louisville, Class 3A, Region 4 play is still a couple of weeks away. Still, the Wildcats appear to be fine-tuning things.
"I think this team really enjoys playing the game, and that is why we are having success," Roberts said. "Everybody comes out Monday through Thursday ready to work hard. Friday night is the fun part. Even tonight, this was fun. Maybe, not as much fun as it normally is. But when you win, it is fun."
Roberts, a Jacksonville State University commitment, has developed into a steadying force behind center. On a dry field, he has numerous offensive weapons to throw to. On this night, though, six backs carried the ball in the quagmire.
Defensively, Louisville is salty. Led by middle linebacker Jeremy Sangster, the Wildcats have a tenacious, physical presence and tremendous size for a Class 3A school. Sangster even carried the ball some, showing that his 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame can be hard to bring down.
Miller led Noxubee County to the Class 4A state championship in 2008. Noxubee County derailed Louisville's season last year in Class 4A North State championship. There will be no such derailment this season thanks to the realignment.
"There is a long way to go," said Miller, as he peaked out from four layers of clothing to do a postgame interview. "However, this team can be special. The good news is they know they can be special."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter