Despite a slow start for their prolific offense, it was all business for the Columbia Wildcats Friday night in a 35-0 home win over Magee to advance to the south state championship.
Head coach Chip Bilderback said he’s really happy for his players reaching south state because as a coach you preach work ethic, making sacrifices and being committed to both the game and to each other and there’s so much more to it than what is seen on game days.
“From the heartache from a year ago being put out in the third round to turn around and use that for motivation, we’re benefitting from the work we’ve done the last 10 months to prepare us for that moment (Friday) night,” he said. “I’m just really proud of our kids. Sometimes you work extremely hard and the ball just doesn’t bounce your way, but I think we worked extremely hard and made our own breaks.”
Columbia’s defense shined from the get go with Teshonne Franklin coming up with his eighth interception of the year in the first quarter. Franklin’s pick was one of the most uncommon seen on a football field. Magee lined up in a bunch trips formation, and Franklin was lined up to jam the receiver on the line of scrimmage. The Trojans threw a quick receiver screen to the inside receiver off the line, and Franklin was able to defeat a block and beat the receiver to the ball.
While the defense dominated throughout, It took until the late second quarter for the Wildcats offense to get on the scoreboard. After converting a long fourth down, Columbia scored on an Omarie Johnson 10-yard touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead.
Moments later Jonathan Wiltz recovered a fumble after a big hit by Jamison Kelly over the middle to set up a 29-yard touchdown pass from Javen Moses to Sadarion Magee to make it 14-0 going into halftime. Bilderback said he was proud of the offense keeping its composure through the slow start and that the Wildcats knew going in it wasn’t going to be easy against Magee’s talented defense.
“I didn’t think we panicked offensively. We kept sticking to what we know, and that’s running the ball and being physical. When you do that it’s going to eventually break and pop. Both running backs — Kentrel (Bullock) and Omar — played extremely well, and we got some big plays from Josh Brown, too. Javen converted a couple of third downs, too, that were huge for our team.”
Columbia’s Jordan Aaron recovered another fumble to open the second half, and Johnson made a house call from 40 yards out to put the home squad up 21-0. Late in the third quarter Columbia added to its lead with a 60-yard rushing touchdown by Josh Brown. Jonathan Wiltz punctuated the victory with a 30-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter.
Magee came into the game averaging 35.7 points per game, but the Wildcats defense more than rose to the occasion to shut down Ole Miss quarterback commit Chandler Pittman and the Trojans offense. Bilderback said Columbia’s defense reached another level when Louisiana Tech commit Jamison Kelly returned from injury to step back in at free safety but that it takes a relentless pass rush, linebackers rerouting receivers and the entire secondary to shut out an offense like Magee’s.
“I thought as a whole defensively to stop the passing game — everyone thinks it’s just the secondary — but no, it’s the whole defense. I thought we did a great job with the adjustments that we made from the first time that we played them,” he said. “They have a great offense led by a great player with a lot of playmakers out there so it was a really tough challenge, but in my opinion I think it showed just how great our defense is.”
The game got quite chippy late in the third quarter as Bullock was driven out of bounds and into the Wildcats’ bench after a string of high-tension plays. A scrum broke out in the aftermath, and police had to come onto the field to help break it up.
Jason Townsend, Robert Johnson and Will McLendon were ejected for Columbia. According to Mississippi High School Athletic Association rulebook, any player who is ejected is automatically suspended for the following game. Townsend is the Wildcats’ starting right tackle, and Roydale Barnes will likely fill in.
Bilderback said you hate to see a great football game have a blemish like that and that it’s hard to put too much fault on the players.
He said when you have passionate players laying it all on the line for each other in a game that could potentially be the end of their season, emotions can run high.
“Unfortunately it’s a negative thing, and nobody wants that to happen. I think that Columbia handled themselves as good as we could have in that situation,” he said.
Pictured Above: Columbia athlete Josh Brown stiff arms a Magee defender on a long run Friday night. | Photo by Susan Amundson