Giles County scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to erase an early deficit and defeat Class 5A Columbia, 21-14, at Lindsey Nelson Stadium last Friday night.
The game was the first since Sept. 17 for the Bobcats (6-0), who had missed a Sept. 24 contest versus Page due to COVID-19 complications, and enjoyed a previously-scheduled bye on Oct. 1.
And while the Bobcats showed some rust after missing the last two weeks — particularly in the first half — they made enough plays in the second half to pull away for the win versus the Lions (4-4).
“I thought we played some really good football once we kind of settled into a rhythm,” Bobcats head coach David O’Connor said. “It was not a complete game, but anytime you can go on the road and beat a team like Columbia, that’s a good night. I was proud of the way our kids stuck to the gameplan and battled all night to get a big victory.”
The game started somewhat uncharacteristically for the Bobcats, who were shutout through the game’s first two periods.
The Bobcats punted on their first two drives of the ballgame, the second of which landed at the Lions three-yard line.
Despite backing their opponents up, the Bobcats were shellshocked as the Lions marched on a 14-play, 97-yard drive for the first score of the night with 9:24 left in the second quarter.
Down 7-0, the Bobcats then missed a pair of field goals — including a 48-yarder that bounced off the crossbar late in the second half.
“We tried to pin Columbia deep and play field position early,” O’Connor said. “And it looked like it was working, but we lost containment on a few plays on their second drive. Once we fell behind, we kind of tried to just chip away, we just got unlucky with a few missed kicks there. But I told the kids to just hang in there and good things would come our way.”
Good things did indeed go the Bobcats way, particularly on the third quarter’s opening kickoff, which kicker Chase Cardin died at the one-yard line. Expecting a touchback, Columbia’s return unit raced to the football for a recovery, but were promptly tackled by the Bobcats.
After a three-and-out, the Bobcats utilized a strong punt return to begin their first drive of the second half at the Lion 15-yard line.
The Bobcats scored in short order, tying the contest at 7-7 on a three-yard tote from senior Chaye McElroy.
With momentum now squarely on their side, the Bobcats scored another touchdown near the end of the quarter, when sophomore quarterback Kamauri Turner found tight end Jacob Durham for a six-yard score.
Leading 14-7, the Bobcats tacked on an insurance score late in the ballgame on a 23-yard scamper from sophomore rusher X’zorion Randolph.
The Lions added a last-gasp score with 30 seconds remaining, but the Bobcats recovered the ensuing onside kick to ice the ballgame.
“It was not a flashy game out there tonight by any means,” O’Connor said. “Columbia came out and gave us a really good shot in the mouth early. Our guys were kind of stunned, not having played in two weeks, I think. But we found that momentum thanks to a huge kickoff play and it just kept rolling from there.”
Turner was the offensive star for the Bobcats, with the quarterback completing 7-of-12 passes for 102 yards and his first aerial touchdown of the year. Turner added a team-high 13 carries for 65 yards on the ground.
Turner, who had been splitting time with junior Eric Goodnight, played every snap at quarterback in Friday’s victory.
Four different Bobcats caught passes from Turner, led by Amarion Sizemore’s three grabs for 56 yards. Jayden Abernathy and DJ Gardner had big first down grabs in the second half for the Bobcats.
“We were excited to see the passing game continue to develop,” O’Connor said. “That was not really the intention heading into tonight, but we saw some things and made adjustments and kind of just went with what the defense was giving us. I was proud of Kamauri for stepping up and making some big throws, and making good decisions with the football.”
The game was fairly balanced, with the Bobcats holding a 248-205 advantage in total yards. As a team, the Bobcats racked up 144 yards on 31 carries, while the run-heavy Lions went for 109 yards on 33 carries.
The Lions were led by running back Kayden McCoy, who ran 13 times for 46 yards and the Lions’ first-half score. McCoy suffered a leg injury in the third quarter, however, and did not return.
Playmaker Ahqzeea Martin led the Lions in yardage with six carries for 50 yards, while also hauling in three receptions for 54 yards and the Lions’ fourth-quarter tally.
Quarterback Luke Uselton completed 7-of-10 attempts for 82 yards, but also suffered an injury in the fourth quarter.
“We knew Columbia’s offense could put up some points and make you pay,” O’Connor said. “Our defense made a few key stops there in the second half to put them behind the chains. We made just enough plays to allow our offense to get in there and get its job done.”
The win completed a sweep for Giles County versus Region 6-AAAAA opponents this season, with the Bobcats defeating Lincoln County, Nolensville and Franklin County.
The win marked a third straight for Giles County versus Columbia, but was the first Bobcat victory at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in at least the last 20 years.
The Bobcats return to their own respective region Friday, when they travel to Sequatchie County for the first-ever meeting between the two squads.
Stakes will be high for the first-ever meeting, with the winner in the driver’s seat for the Region 4-AAA championship.
The Indians (4-3, 2-0 4-AAA) started the year 0-2, but then rattled off four straight wins, before falling 21-14 at Franklin County last Friday.
“I’ll be honest, we don’t know much about Sequatchie County,” O’Connor said. “We will savor tonight’s win, and then start preparing for (Sequatchie) on Sunday afternoon. I do know they are a very proud community and have had some pretty good football teams over the years. We cannot afford to take them lightly.”
Kickoff in Friday’s matchup versus Sequatchie County is set for 7 p.m. CST in Dunlap, Tenn.