Games are not won or lost on opening plays, as the Columbus High School football team learned the hard way Friday night.
A big hit jarred the ball loose on the kickoff return, and the Falcons were set up beautifully inside the Louisville 20. And quarterback Omari Williams capitalized on the opportunity, calmly pump-faking on a screen before hitting Antonio O’Neal in stride for an 18-yard score.
But that was the only score of the night for Columbus, as Louisville improved to 3-0 with a 29-7 win over the Falcons.
The momentum of the game switched quickly, as the Wildcats did a better job on the next kickoff. Louisville return man Keyarrion Jackson took it to the house from 80 yards, a gut punch for the Falcons, who thought they had early momentum.
A period of stalemate followed, but Louisville was winning the battle for field position and appeared to be slowly taking over the game. The Wildcats were stopped in the red zone several times by a resilient Falcons defense, including a frustrating fumble on the goal line.
But the field position proved costly. One play after the fumble, the Falcons tried a run to get some breathing room but Louisville’s defense made the big play with a tackle in the end zone for a safety.
The rest of the first half was all Louisville.
“A long pass play set up the Wildcats in the red zone, and quarterback Jace Hudspeth ran it in himself from the 1 yard line to make it 16-7. A quick stop by the defense gave the Wildcats another possession just before the half, and again they capitalized, as Kameron Triplett hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Hudspeth on a play in which Triplett appeared to have dropped the ball.
Nevertheless, it was 23-7 at the half.
“Louisville is a defending 4A state champion,” Columbus coach Joshua Pulphus said. “They’ve played in big games and know all about momentum swings, and they know it feels to be the hunted.
“That was our message to the guys this week. We’ve gotta know how to go into a game knowing it’ll be a four-quarter battle. They’ve been here plenty of times; they’re used to it. Our guys did a great job, but we didn’t maximize on chances we had.”
Defensive back Michael Mosley’s interception set the Falcons up with great field position early in the third quarter, but continued offensive struggles, particularly penalties, saw their chance to get back in it slip by. A pick six by the Wildcats to start the fourth quarter was the only other score of the game.
“We’ve got to continue to clean up our mistakes,” Pulphus said. “We gave up 17 points off turnovers, and the game should have been a lot closer than the score indicates.\
“We’ve got to come back Monday and clean up some stuff on offense, clean up some stuff on defense, and get ready for a good Tupelo ball club. The defense played great, I think, we’ve got to clean up on special teams, clean up on offense. It’ll take a bit longer for offense to click, but once it does I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Pulphus recognized the struggles of his offense but remains confident in senior quarterback Omari Williams.
“Omari is doing great; I’m proud of him,” Pulphus said. “He’s watching film and understanding what he’s doing wrong, it’s just about getting him and the receivers comfortable on certain assignments and reads. The stuff we’re doing is different from what we’ve done the last three years, so it takes time for it to click and mesh.”
The strength of the Falcons’ schedule also matters. Louisville is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, while Starkville (3-0) would be No. 6 in Class 6A. Their one victory is over a Southaven team that has lost twice by four points.
The Falcons now will prepare for three straight road trips: a tough test against 6A Tupelo next week before visits to New Hope and Greenville, respectively, to begin Class 5A-1 play.
Louisville 29, Columbus 7
Louisville (3-0) 7 16 0 7 — 29
Columbus (1-2) 7 0 0 0 — 7
C — Antonio O’Neal 18 pass from Omari Williams (kick good), 11:48
L — Keyarrion Jackson 80 kickoff return (kick good), 11:33
L — Safety, player tackled in end zone
L — Jace Hudspeth 1 run (kick good), 4:52
L — Kameron Triplett 10 pass from Hudspeth (kick good), 1:10
L — K.J. Tippett interception return (kick failed), 9:51