Although the Columbia Academy Cougars have actually only been victorious once this season and have lost four straight after their 35-20 loss Friday at Lamar School, they are only one win away from securing a first-round bye in the playoffs and have already qualified for the postseason.
Bowling Green, who beat CA and Wayne Academy a combined 74-6 in MAIS 4A District 3 competition, had two players ruled ineligible recently and has to forfeit all of the games it has played. Bowling Green can’t be district champs or go to the postseason. That means Columbia Academy, now 2-5 with the Bowling Green game counted as a win, and Wayne (3-3) are both now 1-0 in district play and will play each other for the title Oct. 18. Not only will the winner be crowned district champ, it will also earn a top-four seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
The Cougars will travel to Waynesboro for the season-defining contest after a bye this week. The Cougars had Monday and Tuesday off of practice to prepare for nine-week exams that began Wednesday, according to head coach Randy Butler. He said they will begin preparation for the most important game of the year Wednesday and Thursday but have Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to get away from it a little bit and try to get more healthy.
Butler said the matchup will be a huge game and could wipe the slate clean moving forward.
“With all the disappointments and everything that’s happened this year, it would be something good if we can make it happen,” he said.
Butler got to know Wayne head coach Todd Mangum when Butler was recruiting for Southern Miss and Mangum was an assistant at Magee, and he said Mangum is a fierce competitor and a hard-nosed coach.
“His team will be physical, and they will play hard. They’re not going to be fancy on offense,” he said. “They’re going to line up in two backs most of the night, and they’re going to try to run it and control the ball.”
The Jaguars line up in what looks like a traditional I-formation, but they run the triple option out of it with the fullback as the dive back, the running back as the pitch man and they sometimes bring a receiver in motion as another option to pitch to.
On the defensive side Wayne is really big on the line, according to Butler, and he said it will be important to establish a running game early on to open up the Cougars’ passing attack.
At Lamar Friday, Butler said it was a tale of two halves as the Cougars couldn’t do anything right in the first half and trailed 28-8. He said the Cougars let the ball go over their heads defensively, didn’t tackle well and kept shooting themselves in the foot offensively. At halftime Butler challenged his team to not worry about the score, and he wanted to see them play hard and smart the rest of the way.
“The second half we came out and played much better. We gave up one score in the second half, and we scored a couple of times,” he said. “We had a chance at the end when it was a two-score game. We had them in a long-yardage situation where they had gotten some personal foul calls and we had a chance to stop them way back in their own territory and possibly block a punt, but we let them out. Then they ran the clock out.”
Butler added that he was really proud how they came back in the second half and that it showed that the Cougars can be a good team when they execute, play hard and believe in each other and the coaches.
Lamar was just the second team CA has played this year that throws a lot, and the Cougars were already without starting cornerback Carter Rowell. Butler said he tried using three different coverages to keep Lamar guessing, but at times the Cougars defense was confused about what they were supposed to do.
“That falls back on me not getting it coached up enough,” he said. “But they have a receiver (Jacob Partridge) who is one of the best in the state. We were trying to zone him, we were trying to man him and we were trying to put a man on top of him, and he got loose a couple of times and beat us.”
The end result was 200 yards passing for Lamar quarterback Will Morris and two touchdowns, with Partridge hauling in four receptions for 111 yards and both scores.
Partridge also burned the Cougars on a 98-yard punt return for a score that Butler said was a result of a lack of effort. He said Patrick Gill had a great punt that bounced to the Lamar 2, and he believes the coverage unit thought Partridge was going to let it go. But he picked it up and made six people miss on his way to the end zone.
“It was really an embarrassing play for our team because it’s a play that we didn’t go all out on. Hopefully we’ll learn from it and get it corrected,” Butler said.
Offensively the Cougars were able to move the ball well against the Raiders, rushing for 168 yards and throwing for 160 with three touchdowns. Senior Riles Stuart had success on the ground with 75 yards. Junior receiver Trevor Courtney, who had an interception last week against PCS, had a breakout game with 85 yards receiving and two scores on six receptions.
Quarterback Ras Pace was picked twice, though, giving the Raiders short fields to work with, but the senior also added 70 yards on the ground on 13 carries.
Pictured Above: Cougars receiver Robert Johnson jukes a PCS defender Sept. 27. | Photo by Joshua Campbell