It took all 48 minutes, but Columbia Academy picked up a big win on the gridiron Friday night as the Cougars outlasted Brookhaven Academy in a 44-42 shootout on the road.
The warring Cougars each scored six touchdowns, and the game was decided by two-point conversions. Columbia Academy converted four while Brookhaven had one and four extra points.
“Those really helped,” CA head coach Randy Butler said. “We decided after Week 1 we were going to go back to two-point conversions when we score, and we’ve been fairly successful doing that.”
Butler said it was good to get a win within MAIS 4A and CA’s first of the season.
“It was a game we really needed to win,” he said.
Coming off their first win of the year, the Cougars (1-2) return home Friday night for their first district bout of the year against Bowling Green (3-1). The Buccaneers are coming off a 50-0 home win over Amite School Center and beat Columbia Academy 32-26 for the district title a year ago.
“They’re a really, really good football team. I really compare them to Adams athletically,” Butler said. “They’ve got two or three guys that can make plays — the quarterback, a couple of running backs and a couple of receivers — and they’ve got a big offensive line. Defensively they just come at you. They’re going to blitz and stunt and really get after you. We’ll have our hands full.”
The Buccaneers offense operates out of the spread and tries to stretch defenses both vertically and horizontally in the running and passing game. Quarterback Rashaan Duke is the straw that stirs the drink with a quick release and lightning speed, and he has the ability to score from anywhere on the field.
Between the running game and passing attack, the Columbia Academy offense was nearly unstoppable Friday night against Brookhaven with 340 rushing yards and four touchdowns and 240 passing yards and two more scores.
A 66-yard touchdown from Ras Pace to Robert Johnson on a quick slant after a play fake started the scoring on the second play from scrimmage with Johnson turning on the burners and splitting the safeties after hauling in the pass in stride to find pay dirt.
Five different CA rushers had at least 25 yards, and three had at least 50 with Preston Sauls leading the way with 180. The freshman showcased the entire package at Brookhaven, breaking into the secondary consistently and picking up huge chunks of yardage while displaying speed, power and elusiveness that should terrify opponents for years to come.
The injury bug hit the Cougars hard with several starters leaving the game, though, including senior running back Riles Stuart, who went down in the second quarter and didn’t return, leading to Sauls’ big night.
“Preston really was impressive running through tackles and running away from people,” Butler said.
It was the Cougars’ third consecutive game without a turnover, which was CA’s main focus throughout fall camp.
“Coach (Graham) Roberts and coach (Keith) Stanley have done a great job of teaching them to protect the football. It’s not just the guy with the ball; that’s the offensive line, blocking, everything,” Butler said. “You can look at any level — NFL, college, high school — going three straight weeks without a turnover is unheard of. It’s great for our offense.”
Butler said the one area the CA offense struggled was with holding penalties that brought back some big plays.
On the defensive side of the ball, Butler said the Columbia Academy did just to preserve the victory.
“Defensively we kind of held on,” he said. “They’ve got a really good offensive plan throwing the ball. They have a sophomore quarterback that will be a Division I quarterback in a couple years. He can sling it, and he ran for (141) yards against us, too. They were running the quarterback power read, and they got us sometimes on that because I was trying to get a pass rush and that’s not the best thing to call when that play comes up.”
Butler added that Brookhaven gave the Cougars defense a lot of different looks that it had not shown on tape and that altered Columbia Academy’s game plan. He said the plan going in was to run Cover 1 primarily — man-to-man coverage underneath with a safety covering the deep middle — but Brookhaven used a tight bunch set and tight wings that forced CA to switch to zone.
“When they came out in that and started to have success, I’m trying to get the thing adjusted but you look over there on the sideline and there’s only three defensive players because the rest of them are on offense. It took us a while to get adjusted to that at halftime,” he explained. “We got it somewhat fixed, and we got two stops to start the second half and those were key.”
The Cougars finished the game with freshmen playing at cornerback, middle linebacker, will (weak outside) linebacker and safety and an eighth-grade nose guard because Peyton Rowell, Ansley Baughman and Stuart went out with injuries, and Kris Ginn and Patrick Gill had to play more on offense.
“It was interesting, but our older guys stepped up and our younger guys really came to the table and helped us finish it off,” Butler said.
He added it was also a special teams substitution nightmare with so many players down.
“I look around and it looked like someone threw a grenade over there on the sideline. We’re down and trainers are attending to people everywhere,” he said. “But our physical and mental prep really paid it off at the end. I challenged them last week that the more physical team was going to win, and really that’s what it was. We just kind of hung on, and I think it’s because our kids really believe in what we’re doing in the weight room in the summer and leading up to the season.”
Pictured Above: Columbia Academy running back Preston Sauls hits the hole in the season opener Aug. 23. The freshman rushed for a career-high 180 yards in CA’s first win of the year Friday night at Brookhaven. | Photo by Joshua Campbell