Take the first quarter away Friday night and the Columbus High School football team might have been in position to get back into the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Region 1 race.
But playoff teams start quickly, set the tempo, and make opponents play from behind.
Buoyed by a 21-point flurry in the first quarter, the Southaven High School football team cruised to a 35-14 victory against Columbus..
“I thought the first quarter they came out and played a lot faster than us,” Columbus High coach Tony Stanford said. “It looked like they were flying all over the field and our motors weren”t that fast.”
The victory left Southaven (6-0), which is ranked fifth in the state in Class 6A, at 2-0 in the region and in the driver”s seat behind defending state champion South Panola for its top two playoff spots.
Starkville High”s victory against previously unbeaten Tupelo left those teams jumbled with Olive Branch and Columbus (2-4, 0-2) in the mix for the region”s final two berths in the postseason.
Southaven quarterback Dominique Harris was the difference. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior made only three completions, but all three went for touchdowns. He hit Anthony Williams on a 51-yard scoring strike, Tremaine Cunningham on a 46-yarder, and Alex Johnson on an 18-yarder. He also rushed for a 6-yard score.
Not to be outdone, junior running back Chris Rice darted his way to 136 yards on 14 carries. Rice added a 10-yard scoring run to help the Chargers control the game with 238 rushing yards.
“He is a great football player but even better than that he is a great kid,” Southaven coach Ed Rich said. “We”re really proud of him as a leader, he has the grades, and he really is doing a lot of good things.”
Rich said he wanted to establish the running game against Columbus in part to help his team become more balanced. A strong effort by the offensive line helped the Chargers accomplish that goal.
“You have to establish both ends of it,” Rich said. “We haven”t had that mind-set as much in previous games, but we felt like it is getting down to the end of the year and we need to run the ball.”
The multi-dimensional offense also laid waste to an item in Friday”s Clarion Ledger that warned Southaven to be on notice because Columbus” strong schedule made it a candidate to pull the upset special.
Rich said he didn”t know of the pick, but he thanked the newspaper for ranking his team. The place in the polls and the notoriety means the program has come a long way from when it used to gain similar attention for not winning.
“When we were everybody”s homecoming (game) we still had the bull”s eye on our back,” Rich said. “We saw queens and princes everywhere.”
Cedrick Jackson”s 4-yard rushing touchdown helped Columbus cut the margin to 28-7 at halftime. The Falcons looked like they were primed to get back into the game thanks to a 14-play drive to start the second half. The march ate up more than six minutes, but it stalled after a penalty for an ineligible player downfield. Southaven needed just four plays for Rice to score to all but put the game away.
The Falcons will see kings next week when the travel north to face South Panola. A loss next week would drop Columbus to 0-3 in the region and put it must-win situations the rest of the way.
Stanford doesn”t relish that predicament, but he said his players need to realize they have to start games quickly or teams are going to blow past them.
To make matters worse, the Falcons lost senior cornerback Randy Brown to a right foot injury. Brown was wearing a boot on his foot on the sidelines in the second half.
Stanford said his kids played hard the entire game, but he needs to have layers realize the importance of marquee matchups like Friday night.
“The three years I have been here it seems like they just come out and start slow and as the game goes they get better,” Stanford said. “We have to learn to play right off the bat.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.