September 13, 2017 12:05:18 PM
The Columbus High School football team will play host to Vicksburg in a big game Friday night.
It won't be a win-or-go-home scenario like in the playoffs. It isn't a region game, either, so the result likely won't impact either team's bid to make the playoffs.
Both teams are winless, so few people statewide will follow the Twitter feed. Vicksburg is three hours from Columbus, so the Falcons likely won't see a big boost at the gate for their home opener.
With that said, this might be one of the biggest games in Randal Montgomery's four seasons as head coach.
Quite simply, the Falcons need a win.
Montgomery has changed the culture of the Columbus program. He has tried to win consistently at a school where it hasn't happened.
In the last two seasons combined, Columbus won 14 games, which is a normal season in places like West Point or Starkville. It is an outlier at Columbus. The Falcons have played in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A playoffs the last two seasons.
The program never has made the postseason three-straight years. To achieve that goal, games like Friday become must wins.
When the season began, Columbus started more sophomores and juniors than seniors. Montgomery talked in the preseason about how the Falcons would work through growing pains. He talked about having to coach this team differently. He talked about this team working hard now to win games in 2018 and 2019.
While the season has never been considered a wash, most knew it would be an uphill climb. Montgomery has talked about the playoffs, though. He has talked about building a team that finishes strong. He has talked about being one of four playoff participants from Region 1 for a third-straight year.
The schedule has been brutal, with games against West Point, Noxubee County, and Starkville. All three have better than 50-percent shots to win state titles in Class 5A, 4A, and 6A, respectively.
Each of the past two seasons, Kemper County and New Hope have appeared on the non-region schedule. Columbus most likely would beat a depleted Kemper County squad and would have a 50-50 chance to defeat New Hope.
When you are young, any win is huge. It leads to positive reinforcement.
Instead, Columbus has fallen to West Point (42-14), Noxubee County (34-9), and Starkville (44-7) by a combined score of 120-30.
Columbus' offense showed no signs of life against West Point. It showed a pulse against Noxubee County. It showed an ability to gain first downs and to maintain drives against Starkville.
The squad has improved each week. In the preseason, Montgomery said improvement each week would be more important than wins. He has seen that.
Junior quarterback Laterius Stowers is still learning in his first season as the varsity starter. The offensive line has been overwhelmed to date. However, the line will continue to grow as the schedule continues to soften.
When Stowers has time to throw, he has a rifle arm -- as good as any quarterback Columbus has faced this season. He also has pocket awareness and mobility to be a pass-run threat.
Columbus has had a hard time on the ground. However, Derrick Jordan and Patrick Jackson are getting the bulk of the workload and have the ability to produce. It's not like they have forgotten how to run the ball. It's just a matter of the blocking getting better and the timing getting right.
At receiver, Columbus has had too many drops. However, the Falcons overcame that problem in each of the last two seasons to have success.
Defensively, the Falcons have been good against the run, while the pass defense has been suspect. However, opponents haven't had to dig deep into the playbook before breaking off a long run or completing a long pass play.
The guess is Columbus will be salty against the run all year but will be hurt by the long ball much like it was a year ago.
The biggest thing about Columbus is how hard it plays. Down 44-7 to Starkville, players were still hitting like a last meal was about to be served. Coaches are applauding the good plays and not getting frustrated by the bad ones.
Columbus also hasn't gotten any breaks. Normally, a team rips off a long kick return or maybe has a critical interception on a batted ball. There is also always the chance of an official's call going in your favor to change momentum. None of that has happened. Columbus has been outmanned and unlucky. Through three games, Columbus has started a drive on the other team's side of the field twice. With only 54 players on the roster, Montgomery can't be too harsh on players who don't give total effort. However, this team plays with pride and passion. It has played as hard as last year's team. You wouldn't know the squad is winless unless you found it online.
While Columbus hasn't been a state championship contender in each of the past two seasons, it has won more games than it lost. Against some of the state's best teams, the games went into the fourth quarter largely in doubt.
This year's team is different. There are enough returnees that Montgomery isn't having to teach how to win. They remember that. The game plan has appeared solid. The team knows what it is trying to do even if it hasn't been able to do it.
That has a chance to change Friday. For Montgomery, his staff and his players, here is hoping it does.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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