Columbia High School’s run ended Friday night with a 27-15 loss to Jeff Davis County in the third round of the 3A playoffs.
But the defeat didn’t dampen what the Wildcats achieved in going from 3-7 in 2017 to 10-3 this year in head coach Chip Bilderback’s first season.
“It was a tough one,” Bilderback said of the loss. “I thought it was a game we could win. I think us and JDC are really close to each other in talent and team-wise and everything like that. It was a great high school football game.”
For Jeff Davis (10-4), the win at Columbia avenges a 14-12 loss on the same field Oct. 12. The Jaguars, the defending state champs, will face district rival Seminary, which beat Winona 46-41 Friday night, in the South State title game.
At Walter Payton Field at Gardner Stadium Friday night, things looked good for the Wildcats early on as Columbia got a safety after turning the ball over on downs deep in Jeff Davis territory to take a 2-0 lead after Josh Riley dropped a runner in the backfield.
On the next possession Columbia quarterback Ralpheal Luter connected with Jamison Kelly for an 81-yard touchdown and after Harrison Foxworth’s extra point, the Wildcats led 9-0 with 2:24 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter the Jaguars roared back and drove down the field before scoring on a 35-yard pass to make it 9-7 in Columbia’s favor.
Jeff Davis then took a 14-9 lead on a 5-yard run with 3:45 left in the first half.
The 14-9 score held until the 9:46 mark in the fourth quarter when the Jags ran it in from seven yards, but the kick failed, making it 20-9.
Set up by another Luter-to-Kelly pass of 26 yards, the Wildcats scored on a 1-yard run by Kentrell Bullock with 6:39 left in the game to make it 20-15 after a fumbled two-point conversion.
Jeff Davis put the nail in the coffin, though, scoring with 3:09 left in the game and adding the PAT kick to make it 27-15.
On the night, Luter completed seven of 15 passed for 163 yards and a touchdown. Four of those passes were to Jamison Kelly, including the touchdown. On the night Kelly had 155 yards receiving, and Bullock caught three passes for 18 yards. Bullock scored the Wildcats’ other touchdown and carried 15 times for 87 yards. Luter kept the ball and ran six times for 26 yards. Omarie Johnson ran six times for 16 yards on the night.
Jefferson Davis County head coach Lance Mancuso had good things to say about the Wildcats following the game Friday night.
“It was really just a game of big plays, and we were able, fortunately, to make a couple more than they did,” he said. “Columbia’s got a great football team. Coach Bilderback and all his staff has really got them going in the right direction. They’ve got a bright future ahead.”
Mancuso also said Columbia is on the rise in a difficult division.
“As many as they have coming back next year, it could be a good year for them next year,” he said.
Bilderback reflected on the game and his inaugural season following the loss.
“We just missed a couple of opportunities early on that we couldn’t capitalize on to stretch our lead,” he said. “When we got the safety, we felt like we left some points on the board there. Our defense responded and we got the safety. We had one mishap on special teams and we thought we could have gotten really good field position there. Jeff Davis is a really good football team and a really good football program and they expect to win those close games like that. They expect to be deep in the playoffs like that and that is where we’re aiming to be.
Columbia high fans are hopeful for the future and Bilderback said the Wildcats are on the upswing.
“I thought all-in-all this was a really good first year for what we’re trying to establish here at Columbia,” he said. “There is a lot of respect between the programs. We make no bones about it. We face them once a year and got to face them twice this year and we know 3A is going to go through Jeff Davis County year in and year out. That’s one of the programs we’re chasing after.”
Pictured Above: Columbia's Jamison Kelly leaps to high point a pass against Jeff Davis Friday night. | Photo by Mark Rogers