The game had a handful of big plays. The biggest happened in the closing seconds of the first half. Columbus had withstood four offensive attacks from Noxubee County and remained in a scoreless tie. The Falcons were on the move with the ball in Tigers’ territory with less than 30 seconds left. Facing a second-and-7 from the Noxubee County 48-yard line, Deveon Ball stripped the ball from Columbus quarterback C.J. Gholar. The ball bounced up field and rolled 30 yards with three Falcons and two Tigers unable to corral it. Finally, Kalmorris Robinson had the best fingers and took the football the final 24 yards for a touchdown to give Noxubee County a 6-0 at halftime lead.
“It was a bizarre play to say the least,” Columbus coach Randal Montgomery said. “We were driving and looking to go ahead at the half. In a worst-case scenario, you are tied at halftime. Instead, we were behind. To our kids’ credit, we kept battling in the second half. We would have come undone after a play like that a year ago.”
The key drive in the game resulted in no points. Noxubee County’s first four possessions were at midfield or in Columbus territory. Each time, the Falcons made a critical stop when they needed it the most. Noxubee County was turned away on downs at the Columbus 12, 16, and 48. Another drive ended with a Columbus fumble recovery by Damonta Kidd at the Columbus 38.
After keeping Noxubee County scoreless, Columbus put together its best drive of the half. Still in a scoreless game, the hard running of Kylin Hill helped Columbus move the ball from its 48 to the Noxubee County 13. Gholar then hit Marquavius Mitchell for about a 2-yard gain on third-and-1. As he was going out of bounds, the ball was fumbled and recovered by Ball. Columbus had another golden scoring threat in the fourth quarter turned away by fumble, too. However, this drive was much bigger because the game was still scoreless.
“We had so many chances to score and had not done it, so it was important that we keep the momentum up on defense,” Ball said. “Sometimes, when our offense isn’t clicking just yet, we feel like we have to make a play on defense. It was important that we kept Columbus out of the end zone as long as we did because we knew from last week there could score a bunch of points in a hurry.”
Any victory at Noxubee County will yield several unsung heroes. On offense, Rashad Eades caught two passes for 76 yards and had three rushes for 2 more yards after not getting a carry in a season-opening double-overtime victory against Starkville. Noxubee County had few offensive highlights, but the play of Eades provided a spark.
On defense, the unsung hero was senior linebacker Qendarrion Barnett. While Jeffery Simmons gets most of the accolades up front, Barnett can help shut down the run. With 14 unofficial tackles, Barnett had the answer on that rare occasion that Kendre Conner, Gholar, or Hill slipped past the initial defender.
For Columbus, the unsung hero on offense was Patrick Jackson. With Conner sidelined by injury, Jackson worked his way up the pecking order and was pressed into service in the backfield. Defensively, Damonta Kidd played well for the Falcons. Kidd had one of the team’s two fumble recoveries. He also applied a lot of the run pressure that kept Noxubee County quarterback Timorrius Conner contained most of the night. Conner threw for three touchdowns against Starkville, but he completed only 11 passes for 183 yards against the Falcons.
“We had some guys really step up,” Simmons said. “We have such a dynamic offense. We have done enough on offense the last two weeks to win. However, on defense, we have really had to pick it up a notch. We had some guys that really emerged and kept (the Columbus) ground game in check.”
The game’s turning point could easily be the touchdown before half. However, Columbus began the second half with possession and had a great chance down a score. Hill had two nice runs and Jackson had a 10-yard pass reception as Columbus drove to the Noxubee County 11. This possession also ended with Gholar being intercepted. Ball returned this interception down the Columbus 29-yard line. From there, the Tigers needed six plays to build a two-touchdown lead that proved too much to overcome.
“The defense played a great game,” Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. “We had backs against the wall more than once and time and time again, the defense made a great play. Our guys were physical and flying to the ball. Each team had a lot of scoring chances, but the longer you go without a score, the more nervous you get. It was good to finally get that separation.”
For a second-straight week, Simmons stood out as one of the two best — if not the best — player on the field. Unofficially, he had 14 tackles On offense, he received two touches — a 1-yard touchdown run and a 33-yard touchdown pass reception from Conner. Columbus likes to run the football and that was difficult to do with Simmons playing at such a high level. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound All-State performer had three and a half tackles for loss. As a team, Columbus rushed 44 times for 173 (3.9 yards per carry).
“The win over Starkville really helped the confidence of this team,” Simmons said. “We knew we were playing another (Class 6A) team, so we would have to be ready.”
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.