COLUMBIA – Here’s some free advice for championship contenders in Class 4A.
Pay attention to Columbia. Pay a lot of attention to Columbia.
The Wildcats, No. 2 in the state in the Class 4A rankings, brushed aside previously undefeated Sumrall 40-0 Friday in the Region 7-4A opener for both teams at Walter Payton Field, serving notice that they intend to be serious players in November.
“I thought our kids played well,” said Columbia coach Chip Bilderback, whose team improved to 5-1 overall.
“We knew we couldn’t allow it to become a seven-on-seven game, because they are really good at pitching it and catching it. We wanted to be physical on both sides of the ball, and that’s something we want to continue to push for.”
Columbia did it with a multi-faceted offense that chewed up 341 yards of offense, but more importantly, held the ball for more than 29 minutes.
“Our philosophy is we want to be physical on offense,” said Bilderback. “Our offensive line has gotten better each week. We’ve got three great backs that are kind of a three-headed monster, and when you combine that with a line that’s starting to gel, that’s a good thing.”
The go-to guy against the Bobcats was senior Omar Johnson, who led Columbia with 82 yards on the ground, including two touchdowns, on 14 carries.
He was complemented by senior Jonathan Wiltz, who ran for 56 yards on seven carries, and junior Miguel Cook, who scored two touchdowns in nine carries totaling 22 yards. In all, Columbia ran 44 times for 211 yards.
“Sometimes you’ve got to trust the process,” Johnson said. “If we stay together, we can beat anyone we play.”
Columbia seized control from the outset, taking the opening kickoff as far as the Sumrall 21-yard-line before the Bobcats got a fourth-down stop.
On the first play after giving up the ball, the Wildcats got it right back on an interception off a tipped ball from Sumrall quarterback John Ford.
It was the start of a brutal night for the Bobcat senior, who was harassed and hurried into just six completions in 23 attempts for 84 yards and three picks in total.
“We dropped a lot of ball, had a lot of penalties, just really sloppy,” said Sumrall coach Shannon White. “We dropped balls all night, we overthrew balls all night, threw three picks. I mean, you can’t do that against a bad team, let alone a team as good as Columbia.”
Taking over at the Bobcat 18, Columbia initially went backwards on a 15-yard blocking in the back call.
But on third-and-16, Cook picked up 12 yards, then senior quarterback Carter Smith connected with junior D.J. Cloyd for 10 yards on fourth down to the 2-yard-line, and Cook carried it in for the first score of the game.
Smith directed the Wildcats with an efficient passing game that picked up 130 yards on 14 completions in 19 attempts. Smith finished 12 of 14 for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
“A lot of people say Columbia doesn’t throw the ball,” said Smith. “But we can do it all. We can run it, we can throw it, we can do anything we want. Anything we wanted, we could have done it tonight.”
Sumrall finally got a bit of offense going late in the first quarter. Ford found sophomore Jonathan Nelson with a 38-yard pass play to get inside the Wildcat 30. But on third-and-10 from the Wildcat 28, Ford’s pass in the flat to senior Brandon Harrison only picked up 8 yards.
The Bobcats lined up for a 37-yard-field goal, but big defensive end Jeheim Oatis burst through the line to block the kick, one of many ways the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Oatis dominated Sumrall.
“The plan was to get their weakest guard and push them down,” said Oatis, the top-rated defensive end in Mississippi who has committed to Alabama.
“We got our biggest man to block down and open up the hole for me, and I just got through. We knew they were going to trip-team me, double block me. So, we just hit the wide gap at the center all night.”
Taking over at their own 41 after the blocked field goal, Columbia marched 59 yards in five plays. Johnson barreled for 8 yards, then Smith hit senior Joshua Brown for a 20-yard catch-and-run to the Sumrall 31.
On third-and-1 from the Bobcat 22, Johnson burst over the left side, broke a tackle at the point of attack and dashed the rest of the way untouched for a score and a 14-0 lead on the final play of the first quarter.
It quickly got worse for Sumrall. On second down, sophomore Amarion Fortenberry broke on a pass from Ford to set the Wildcats up at the Bobcat 45.
On the next play, Smith found Brown open down the left sideline and dropped the pass right in the basket for a touchdown.
“We ran a post-wheel combo, and I thought the safety was going to bite on the wheel,” said Smith. “He did and it was wide open. Untouched, blown coverage. Easy money.”
Having demonstrated its ability to control the clock, Columbia showed it can beat the clock as well.
With under a minute to play in the second quarter, senior Kentrell Jackson returned a punt 33 yards to the Sumrall 38. Despite having just 32 seconds and only one time out, the Wildcats drove quickly for a back-breaking score.
Smith tossed a shovel pass that Cook carried 15 yards, then on fourth-and-2 from the 15, Smith passed to junior Kendale Johnson, who outraced the pursuit to the end zone with five seconds to play before halftime.
The Bobcats blocked the PAT kick, but Columbia took a 27-0 lead into the intermission.
It was more of the same in the second half.
After one first down, Sumrall was forced to punt on the opening possession of the third quarter. The Wildcats took over at their own 10-yard-line and just wore out the Bobcats on a 10-play march that showed off their whole offensive repertoire.
Omar Johnson had runs of 7 and 2 yards before Smith converted a third-and-1 with a 2-yard quarterback sneak. Smith and Brown played pitch-and-catch for gains of 20 and 6 yards, then Brown took a reverse 34 yards around left end to the Bobcat 19.
Johnson took care of those 19 yards on runs of 7, 11 and a yard for the touchdown
“I thought our quarterback played extremely well and I thought Joshua Brown made some great explosive plays for us tonight,” said Bilderback. “We have room to improve. We just want to keep working and get better each week.”
Although he didn’t get into the end zone, Brown was a playmaker for Columbia, with nine catches for 110 yards to go with the big 34-yard run.
Senior J.J. Parker was a bright spot for Sumrall, running 12 times for 55 yards.