It’s easy to point to the touchdowns to see how a game played out, but there are always plays that don’t result in points on the scoreboard that play just as big of a role in the outcome of a game. In Columbia’s win over West Marion Friday night, there were five big plays that helped the Wildcats pick up the victory and advance to the South State Championship.
1. Peyton Anderson’s 22-yard reception (4:45 second quarter): On second-and-10 from the West Marion 20-yard line, Greg Fortenberry caught a short flat route, turned upfield and got into the end zone, which would have tied the game 6-6. But the touchdown was brought back because of a correctly-called block in the back on Dashod Ball, backing the Wildcats into a second-and-18 from the 28. With how good West Marion’s defense is and the struggles Columbia’s offense had experienced to that point in the game, more likely than not Columbia doesn’t come away with points before the end of the first half. However, the Wildcats drew up the perfect play — a tight end screen to Peyton Anderson, who had not caught a single pass all season. West Marion’s defensive line didn’t recognize the screen at all with three pass rushers immediately chasing after quarterback Carter Smith, who calmly lofted a pass to Anderson. Running behind left tackle Roydale Barnes, left guard Javon Barnes and center Trevor Rowell, Anderson easily coasted down to the West Marion 6 before being brought down. On the very next play, Omar Johnson scored on a 6-yard run. Had Columbia not come away with points there, the rest of the game would’ve been called and played very differently.
2. Devron Cloyd intercepts Qavonte Swanigan (late third quarter): With the game knotted at 6-6, the Trojans were knocking on the door following a huge 41-yard completion from Jayden Duncan to O’Marion Husband that set the Trojans up with first-and-10 at the Columbia 25. Despite West Marion having most of its success offensively from its traditional passing game, the Trojans went into the Wildcat formation and had back-to-back runs stuffed for no gain. The Trojans opted to stay in the Wildcat on third-and-10 and tried to catch Columbia napping with Swanigan attempting to pass rather than run. Rolling to his right, Swanigan had tight end Cooper Foxworth open over the middle for what would have been a first down. But Foxworth slowed down to a light trot at the end of his route, believing the ball was going elsewhere, which allowed Cloyd to jump in front of the pass and pick it off. Who knows if West Marion would’ve scored points on the drive if it had went back to its traditional offense on that third down, but trusting a receiver in Swanigan to throw to Foxworth, who has never caught a pass in his prep career, rather than Duncan throwing to Swanigan, Husband or Larry Magee clearly didn’t work out. Had the Trojans come away with points there, they likely win the game.
3. Smith completes deep ball to Ball (6:30 fourth quarter): After Smith was called for intentional grounding, which lost the Wildcats 13 yards, and he completed a 7-yard pass to Latonio Irvin, Columbia was facing a third-and-16 on its own 44 down 13-6. If the Trojans force the Wildcats to punt in that situation, they would’ve been in prime position to run out the clock. Instead Ball had a great stem release at the line to create separation from Magee, and Smith threw a perfect pass deep down the sideline where only Ball could come down with it. With a 38-yard completion, Columbia was set up in great position and was able to cut the deficit to 13-12 three plays later with another Johnson touchdown run with 5:02 remaining.
4. Holding call backs Trojans up into first-and-24 (4:45 fourth quarter): Following the Johnson touchdown, West Marion got the ball back up 13-12 with less than five minutes of clock to burn. But on the first play of the drive, right guard Jarvis Craft got beat off the line by Columbia defensive tackle Will McLendon and resorted to holding onto McLendon’s jersey. Because McLendon got such deep penetration, Craft’s hold occurred four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Unlike professional rules, holding is a spot foul in high school, leading to the Trojans losing 14 yards with the penalty. It wasn’t an egregious hold — it actually had zero effect on the outcome of the play because McLendon still made the tackle behind the line — but it was the correct call. After being backed up into first-and-24, the Trojans weren’t able to pick up a first down and instead had to punt it back to the Wildcats with three minutes to play.
5. Ball’s gutsy return, plus late hit-personal foul (2:50 fourth quarter): Although West Marion was unable to pick up a first down, the Trojans still seemed to be in position to win the game as Duncan boomed a great punt. The kick went over both Kentrell Jackson and Ball’s heads and was taking a West Marion roll. With the momentum of the ball, it appeared the Trojans were going to down the ball around Columbia’s 25 and force the Wildcats to drive 75 yards to win the game. Duncan had booted it from the West Marion 20, which would have resulted in a 55-yard punt and completely flipped field position in West Marion’s favor. Despite having two Trojans within two yards of him and having his back turned to them, Ball made the gutsy decision to scoop up the ball and attempt to return it from his own 33. His decision caught the two Trojans gunners (O’Marion Husband and Jakaden Mark) completely off guard, and he was able to easily capture the corner. Ball returned it 24 yards to the West Marion 43 before choosing to go out of bounds, but Ka’Marius Husband hit him just a fraction too late on the sideline, prompting a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Rather than being backed up at their own 25-yard line, the Wildcats started what would become the game-winning drive at the West Marion 28. Ball’s decision, which just about every coach known to man would advise against, turned out to flip the field position 47 yards in Columbia’s favor, allowing the Wildcats to come from behind to win the game 18-13. Ball is also the one who won the game for Columbia, catching the game-winning touchdown with just five seconds remaining.