FOXWORTH MS (WDAM) - By picking up a championship trophy Thursday night it had not held in a decade, Columbia High School put itself in position to play for another title next Friday.
The Wildcats used to big plays in the second half to break a 6-6 tie and run away to a 28-6 Region 8-3A victory over cross-county rival West Marion High School.
With the win, Columbia (8-1, 4-0) not only remained atop the region standings, but snapped the Trojans’ four-year hold on the Marion County Trophy, an intra-county competition between West Marion, East Marion and Columbia high schools.
The Wildcats last won the round-robin rivalry in 2008.
“We’ve got some talented kids, but more importantly, they’re just great kids, and all they’ve done is everything we’ve asked them to do,” said first-year coach Chip Bilderback. “They’ve made the sacrifices, they made the commitment they needed to make to make our program successful.
“But the other thing is, they care about Columbia High football. That’s really important to them.”
And, because of that, the Wildcats will play in the most high-stakes game they have in years.
Depending on the outcome of Friday’s region clash between Seminary and Jefferson Davis County high schools, Columbia could enter an Oct. 26 showdown at Seminary with the lone unbeaten region mark.
If the Bulldogs (6-3, 3-0) beat the Jaguars (6-3, 2-1) Friday, it would set up a match of the region’s undefeateds playing for the 8-3A crown.
Should the Jags win, the Wildcats would still clinch the championship with a win at Seminary on Oct. 26. Columbia still might find itself in the running even with a loss to Seminary as long as Jefferson Davis County wins at Wesson in its regular-season finale, creating a three-way tie of one-loss teams atop the region.
In that instance, the playoff seeding of the tri-champs would be based on tiebreakers.
At any rate, the Wildcats have put themselves in a position Columbia has not found itself in a spell. Consider: Thursday night, Columbia reached eight wins for the fourth time since 2004.
“The work ethic has been there, and now, very game, they‘ve gained confidence, gained confidence, and winning is contagious,” Bilderback said.
After a 6-0 start to the season, the Trojans have struggled through the region schedule and find themselves staring at-a-win-or-go-home next Friday at Tylertown High School.
“Win or be done,” West Marion coach Brad Duncan said. “If we win, we’re in (the postseason). If we don’t, we’ll be packing our stuff and getting ready for basketball season.
“I just told them (what’s at stake), and they understand the importance of it. It hurts, though. They were upset about (Thursday), but let’s forget about (Thursday) and get refocused and see if we can’t play some extra football.”
Both teams stitched together one, good drive in a first half that ended in a 6-6 tie.
Columbia senior quarterback Ralpheal Luter got the Wildcats on the board first on a 1-yard run, but West Marion answered on an 8-yard pass from junior Jeremiah Holmes to senior Noland Miller Jr.
The Trojans had an opportunity at the start of the third quarter, when the Wildcats fumbled away a punt at their 19-yard line.
But Columbia’s defense rose up, throwing the Trojans in reverse for minus 11 yards before taking the ball over on downs.
“That was a huge opportunity, but you’ve got take advantage of that situation, too,” Duncan said. “You’ve got to make plays, and we didn’t do it. Bottom line, we didn’t get it done.”
The Wildcats seized the momentum, and the game, soon after.
Junior running back Kentrel Bullock broke a eye-popping, 58-yard run, that saw him wade through traffic on the left side, cut on dime and then turned on the afterburners to reach the end zone.
After a bad snap on the extra-point attempt, senior Javen Moses rolled to his right, shook off a would-be tackler and threw a desperate but perfect strike to junior tight end Teshonne Franklin cutting across the middle of the end zone.
The lead went to 14-6 when Luter got the Wildcats out of a hole their 18-yard line by finding junior Jamison Kelly behind the defense for a 55-yard gain down to the Trojans’ 27-yard line.
Bullock ripped off an 18-yard run, freshman Omar Johnson mashed his way for 4 yards up the middle and Luter scored his second touchdown of the night by slipping over right tackle from 5 yards out to give the Wildcats a 21-6 lead just 76 seconds into the final period.
Columbia wrapped up the scoring after a Holmes’ interception set up the Wildcats at the West Marion 45-yard line.
Johnson’s 36-yard run ate up most of the distance and Luter capped the drive with a 1-yard run with 3:09 to play.
The Wildcats got a scare down the stretch. After recovering a West Marion fumble, Columbia was running out the clock, and Bullock got sandwiched between a pair of West Marion defenders in a violent collision.
The Wildcats’ workhorse stayed down for a moment, got halfway up and then went back down after putting initial weight on his right leg. Eventually, Bullock was able to walk with a hitch off the field and was walking gingerly on his own after the game.