Since Chip Bilderback was named the head coach of the Columbia Wildcats, they have been on the brink of reaching the state championship game. Now, it’s finally here. The Wildcats are squaring off with Senatobia for the Class 4A State Championship Saturday at Southern Miss, and they are going to have to bring their A-game to Hattiesburg if they want to hoist a gold football around 1:30 p.m.
Bilderback said any time you get this late into the season, you’re going to face really good teams and Senatobia (12-2) is no different. He said he believes the game will come down to the fourth quarter, where the Wildcats will need to outlast the Warriors.
Bilderback said Senatobia’s two losses could have easily been wins with different circumstances. The Warriors lost their first game of the season 20-6 to a 6A opponent in Desoto Central — similar to Columbia’s 14-7 loss to 6A opponent Petal in just its second game of the year. Senatobia’s second loss was in its last regular season game of the year with the district title on the line against Clarksdale, who beat the Warriors 8-7. Bilderback said in watching the film of the Clarksdale game, the field was flooded, making it a unique game.
“On film, they’ve been consistently good all year. They’re a complete team,” he said.
It begins with Senatobia’s explosive offense, which is centered around three very explosive athletes.
“Offensively, they’ve got a really good running back, No. 7 (Jordan Osborn). They’ve got an explosive slot receiver, No. 2 (JaBrysten Abram). Their quarterback (Tyreese Hullette) is really good at extending the play with his feet, but he has a good arm,” Bilderback said. “Defensively, we’re going to be presented with some really tough challenges to be able to slow their offense down.”
While Hullette poses a big threat with his ability to make plays both with his legs and his arm — both in and outside the pocket — Bilderback said the good thing is Columbia’s schedule prepared the Wildcats for this moment.
“When you get into these games, you don’t want to say, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this or a player like this.’ When you get to the end of the year, you want to be able to say, ‘This is like this opponent we faced and this is how we’re going to do it’ to give our players the confidence to believe they can do it,” he explained. “This quarterback is close to the kid we faced at Mendenhall (D.K. Jenkins). He’s not quite there, but he’s close.
“We’ve seen quarterbacks that extend the play well with their feet, so our pass rush is going to have to be great and we’re going to have to stay with our coverage and not get caught with our eyes in the backfield. It’s going to have to be a relentless pass rush; it can’t be a one move and done. We’re going to have relentlessly keep coming after this guy.”
Bilderback added that all year, Columbia’s defense has aimed to be the best in the state, and if the Wildcats are able to limit Hullette and Osborn, it will be the exclamation point to making that a true statement.
The Warriors defense likes to load the box to mitigate the run game while playing man coverage in the secondary.
“They’re going to make it tough on us to try to run the ball, but I feel really good about Omar Johnson and Miguel Cook, along with our offensive line. It’s going to be a battle in there. There may be some plays where they only get two or three yards, but the next time, we may get eight yards. It’s going to be one where just have to chip away at it,” Bilderback said.
The fourth-year coach added he likes Columbia’s chances on the perimeter against Senatobia’s man coverage as well. Bilderback reiterated that he’s glad the Wildcats played the schedule they did this year because there’s a good comparison to point to for Senatobia’s defense as well — Petal.
“That’s going to help us prepare for (their defense), too,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of things we prepared for this whole year that has got us ready for this moment.”
Although getting to a state championship is a great accomplishment in its own right, Bilderback said that the time to reflect on that will be following Saturday’s game because there’s a lot of work left to be done.
“You don’t get here very often. In everyone’s career, it’s rare to get here multiple times. Even to get here one time is a peak within itself. You better seize the opportunity that you have, and I think we have a great opportunity for our football team and for our community to bring home a state championship,” he said.
The goal this week, however, remains the same as it’s been all year — finish the week 1-0.
“It just so happens this is the last week of the year. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, win the last game of the season. I didn’t mean Game 10; I meant this game,” Bilderback said. “So there’s more work for our program to do.”
During the South State Championship against Poplarville, Columbia’s fans played a big role in setting the tone in the second half, which the players fed off of. But it took some goading from Bilderback, who ran along the track prior to the second-half kickoff encouraging the fans to get loud, and the players to get the fan base rocking. Bilderback said Tuesday it’s really important for the fans to come with that type of energy to start the game and not wait until the second half.
“If you’re coming to this game to cheer on Columbia, don’t wait for a big play. Our advantage is this is like a home game for us, and we’re going to feed off the crowd just as much as they feed off us. It’s going to be important that we don’t sit around and wait for a big play to happen; we need to bring the juice ourselves. We’re going to need to bring the juice for 48 minutes — all four quarters — if everyone really wants to bring a championship back to Columbia.”
Kickoff at The Rock Saturday is at 11 a.m.