November 4, 2017 11:37:14 PM
HERNANDO -- The Columbus High School football team had a chance.
With 19 seconds left and facing a fourth down, Columbus ran a successful play from earlier in the season. Quarterback Laterius Stowers faked a handoff, rolled to the right and overthrew an open receiver in the end zone.
The incompletion turned out to be the final opportunity of the season for Columbus in a 21-14 loss to Hernando on Friday night in a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, Region 1 game.
After making the playoffs in each of its last two seasons, Columbus finished 2-9 and 1-6 in region play. Hernando ended its season 5-6 and 2-5.
"That final play was a snapshot of our season," Columbus fourth-year coach Randal Montgomery said. "One step forward, two steps backward. We do everything right in stretches. We simply can't score. When it's time to make the big play and get the points, we simply can't score. If you saw this game, it was our season. A lot of nights have looked like this."
Columbus' only turnover was the game-decider. A 33-yard interception return touchdown by Dylan Alberson provided the Tigers the margin of victory with 8 minutes, 33 seconds remaining.
"It hurts," Columbus senior running back Patrick Jackson said. "We just couldn't take the final step. We were close a lot of times. We just couldn't get it done. We couldn't get that big play. As seniors, it hurts because you don't want to go out like this."
Columbus outgained Hernando (294-219). The Falcons forced two turnovers to win that battle. Stowers completed 60 percent of his passes. Columbus had leads of 7-0 and 14-7. Jordan Randle and Jackson had long kick returns in their final games.
In the end, the Falcons finished the season on a six-game losing streak.
"Never really faulted the effort of this team throughout the year," Montgomery said. "We played well in spurts. You saw a glimpse of what we could do it and then it went away. We were to the point where we had to play a perfect game on most nights and just couldn't do that."
A talented and small senior class had its moments. Kenneth Martin had seven catches for 91 yards. He also had an interception. Devon King also tried to close his career with one, but it was nullified by a penalty. Isaiah Karriem had two sacks, while Josh Gray had three tackles for loss. King also had two pass breakups. Jackson made it back-to-back 100-yard games with 120 yards on 22 rushes.
"This team faced a lot of adversity and we just tried to lead," Jackson said. "You have to stay patient with the young guys. We have a winning tradition going here. It's disappointing to not hold that up this year. However, these players will learn from what we went through this year."
The senior class were ninth-graders when Montgomery was hired to breathe life into the program.
"It's a special group," Montgomery said. "We got them as ninth-graders when we got here. They have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. They were part of a Columbus team that did things that had never been done before here. Then, they end with a 2-9 record.
"The leadership was great. A lot of these guys had big roles on the playoff team last year at juniors. We knew going in that might be some tough times while we great. The seniors stayed committed. They kept pushing to make us better."
Martin's interception set Columbus up with a short field. The Falcons drove 27 yards on two plays, with Jackson scoring from 21 yards.
Hernando answered with a 93-yard, 11-play drive for a 7-7 halftime tie. The Tigers converted two fourth downs on the march.
On the first possession of the second half, Columbus drove 57 yards on nine plays, with Stowers hitting Martin for a 14-yard touchdown.
Hernando answered by driving 55 yards on eight plays.
"The last couple of weeks, we had a situation like that, where we gave the score right back," Montgomery said. "As quickly as you get the momentum, you can't let it get back away from you."
Down 21-14, the Columbus defense had a final stop to give the offense a chance.
Starting on its 11-yard line, Columbus drove to the Hernando 5. On fourth-and-1 at the 5, a handoff to Jackson was faked. Stowers rolled out and overthrew Fred Harris, who had separation in the end zone.
A 12-yard by catch by Harris and 13-yard catch by Martin helped spark the drive.
"This team will make those plays next year," Jackson said. "I don't think these guys want to feel like this again."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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