Randy Butler wasn’t quite sure what to feel this past Friday, though in the end, he could only shake his head at the resilience of his Columbia Academy Cougars.
With his sideline looking like triage unit with players dropping from dehydration, cramps and other heat-related issues, Butler saw his team fall behind by two scores at halftime before rallying behind a mix-and-match lineup of starters and reserves to take home a 35-28 victory at Silliman Institute in Clinton, La.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a team or more frustrated,” Butler said. “I was frustrated with myself in that first half and with them, but you know, we weathered the storm.”
The Cougars rallied from a 20-7 deficit, as sophomore running back Riles Stuart ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns after starting junior running back Drew Havard was sidelined and two-way, back-up running back Jake Brewer was slowed by the heat.
“He played wide receiver as ninth grader last year, but we needed him, for sure, and he really, really played well,” Butler said. “Very proud of him.”
Brewer, a senior, added 80 yards on 10 carries before being slowed and sophomore quarterback Ras Pace added 22 yards on nine carries.
Playing behind an offensive line that featured three sophomores by the second half, Pace completed 11 of 23 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions.
“I thought he really showed some leadership out there,” Butler said.
Senior receiver/defensive back Aaron Thomas came up huge for the Cougars, catching seven passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 63-yard kickoff return, and on defense, picked off a pass.
Senior middle linebacker Hayden Fornea pitched in on offense as well, gaining 31 yards and scoring a touchdown on five carries. He also ran in a two-point conversion.
Sophomore Patrick Gill also was two-way standout. Gill ran for a two-point conversion and finished with a team-high eight tackles (three tackles for loss) and came up with an interception.
In fact, the defense came up huge in the second half. Silliman, which scored two of its four touchdowns on an interception return and a kickoff return, managed just 30 yards in the second half.
“The second half was completely different,” Butler said. “From about the 8 minutes left in the third quarter, we took over the game.”
The defense came up with five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumble recoveries), 11 tackles for loss and five sacks.
The Cougars will be at home Friday night to greet Presbyterian Christian School at 7 p.m. The Bobcats opened the season with a 38-18 victory over West Marion High School on Thursday night.
“It’s like New England or Seattle coming to Columbia,” Butler said. “But we’ll see what we can do.”
Sacred Heart 35, Loyd Star 14
Senior Campbell Klein rushed for 115 yards and three touchdowns and senior Hudson Garner returned a fumble for a score as the Crusaders came up with a season-opening road win.
“It was first-game sloppy, so there’s a lot to clean up,” Sacred Heart coach Lonny Schrader said. “But there was also a lot of promise, a lot of up-side, too, so I’m pleased with that.
“But I think the kids were not satisfied, and that they know we have a lot of work to do. If we want to be as good as we want to be we have a lot of work to do.”
Garner, who led the Crusaders from his middle linebacker spot with 11 tackles, including two sacks, backed Klein’s efforts in the ground game with 74 yards on eight carries.
Junior quarterback Zach Weatherell completed 13 of 33 passes for 143 and a touchdown with an interception. Senior Joseph Bishop caught seven passes for 102 yards, while senior Jeremiah Smith hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Senior Paul Thomas scored on a two-point conversion, while junior Carson Hall kicked three extra points.
Junior defensive end Garrett Crowder had nine tackles , senior defensive lineman Mike McElroy had seven tackles and senior safety Jackson Allen made six tackles and broke up three passes.
The Crusaders stay on the road, heading to Richton High School at 7 p.m. Friday. The Rebels opened the season Friday with 41-8 loss at Columbia High School.
Mount Olive 26, West Lincoln 14
Senior La’Travious McNair returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, returned an interception for a score and threw a touchdown pass to rally the Pirates past the Bears in the season opener for both schools.
West Lincoln led 14-12 after one quarter, but Mount Olive took a 20-14 halftime lead and then scored the only points of the second half in the third quarter.
McNair completed 4 of 9 passes for 99 yards, including a touchdown pass to senior James Graves III. He threw two interceptions, but also connected with sophomore Zyterrious Chatman on a two-point conversion pass.
Senior Denzel Magee rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown on eight carries and also hauled in a 63-yard reception.
Senior Austin Hunt led the team with 13 tackles, including a sack, while junior Bobby Hubbard had 10 tackles. Senior Deshaun Price made nine tackles, including two sacks, and senior John Lockett also finished with nine tackles.
The Pirates will remain on the road, visiting Mize at 7 p.m. Friday. The Bulldogs lost 20-0 to Raleigh High School in Friday’s season opener.