There are no guarantees for the Columbus High School football team.
“All we can do is work hard,” Columbus senior defensive back Quin Malone said. “We have seen our share of adversity, but it hasn’t broken us yet. I believe in my coaches and my teammates. Things are going to get better.”
After an open date, Columbus (0-2) will play host to top-ranked Starkville (3-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at Falcon Field.
The schedule was set when Eric Rice accepted the Columbus job in the spring, so he knew a start that featured games against two teams that won the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) State championships and another against a state runner-up would be a challenge.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Rice said. “We talked to the kids about improving each week. The scoreboard is important, but you can’t get caught up in that early in the season. You have to focus on getting better each week. The region games are the important ones. We knew to keep making strides to get us ready for those.”
A year ago, Columbus lost to the same three teams by a combined score of 120-30 to start the season. This year, West Point beat Columbus 55-6 and Noxubee County earned a 35-12 victory.
While the Falcons were lethargic in the season opener, areas of improvement were noticeable a week later. They have utilized the off week to fine-tune some areas.
After the game against Starkville, the non-region schedule ends next Friday at Vicksburg. The MHSAA Class 6A, Region 1 schedule will follow. Columbus won one region game in 2017.
“Last season was frustrating, but hopefully, we have learned from it,” Columbus senior linebacker Dontae Gillespie said. “We didn’t have a lot of seniors last year, so we didn’t have a lot of leaders. This year, more of us have been trying to lead. It gets frustrating because you don’t want to keep working this hard and have nothing to show for it.”
Columbus made offensive strides against Noxubee County. Junior Jaelan Craddieth put together a complete effort but threw three interceptions.
The Falcons are looking for their second first-half touchdown this season. The inability to extend drives plagued the team a year ago and has been an issue in the first two games.
“We need something good to happen,” Columbus senior running back Derrick Jordan said. “I don’t think anybody is doubting. However, we need some good things to happen. At Columbus, we are used to fighting from the underdog role. We just have to go out and prove this is a different team.”
Having good fortune against Starkville will be a tall task. The state’s top-ranked team has defeated Noxubee County (30-6), Oxford (56-7), and West Point (23-7) to open the season. With Noxubee County and West Point as common opponents, there will be few surprises Friday night.
Starkville will try to ride the running game. Senior Rodrigues Clark scored all three touchdowns against West Point. Columbus has had a greater challenge stopping the run. Still, the Falcons are confident the big stage will give them a chance to display more growth.
“When the region games start, we will be prepared,” Malone said. “No one has had a more challenging start to the season. We just can’t make mistakes. When you are playing teams, you can’t mess up. We have to play a flawless game, and we also have to realize there is a lot of football left to be played this season.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.