ABERDEEN, Miss., - For the third consecutive year Aberdeen and Columbus have met in the season opener.
And for the third straight time it was the Falcons who came out on top. The first two games were decided by one point in double overtime in 2009 and two points in 2010.
This year Columbus took advantage of five Bulldog turnovers - including three in the second quarter that led to 17 points - for a 31-14 victory Friday night.
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"I thought when they turned the ball over we made big plays out of it," said Falcon head coach Tony Stanford. "That was the difference in the ballgame.
Columbus picked up 230 yards on the evening with 136 yards on the ground and another 94 through the air. Senior running back Damian Baker led the Falcons rushing attack with 117 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
"I think our confidence is sky high right now and I think it's going to reflect long into the season," said Columbus junior offensive tackle Jake Thomas. "It felt real good. We were a little sloppy at the beginning but we kind of straightened things out in the fourth quarter and finished it."
Senior quarterback Cedric Jackson totaled 115 yards of offense including 6-of-12 passing for 84 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Deontae Jones hauled in three of those passes for 44 yards and a score.
It was the Bulldogs who struck the initial blow in the first quarter. Aberdeen took over their second possession of the game and moved 35-yards down to the 1-yard line where disaster was averted. The ball was fumbled on 1st-and-goal but offensive lineman Brandon Hodges pounced on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.
Freshman quarterback Josh Williams tossed a two-point conversion to Channing Ward to give Aberdeen an early 8-0 advantage.
But the Bulldogs luck ran out in the second quarter right from the very first play. Williams was picked off by defensive lineman Kenny Averhart and returned to the 17-yard line.
Columbus needed only one play to score from there as Baker scampered in from 17-yards out. Michael Sturdivant provided the PAT pulling the Falcons within one.
Later in the quarter Ward drilled Jackson for a sack and forced a fumble that was recovered by Aberdeen at the 10-yard line going in.
"It was a big forced fumble," Ward said. "That's what big players have to do is make big plays when it's time to make big plays."
But the Bulldog offense went backwards from there with a 5-yard loss on a rush, a false start and the coughed up the football into the awaiting arms of Columbus safety Quan Latham, who raced 78-yards the other way for a touchdown to give the Falcons their first lead of the night.
On the first play of the ensuing possession Aberdeen once again fumbled and was recovered by Falcons defensive end Tim Hudgins at the 18-yard line.
Aberdeen's defense was able to hold however but the Falcons were able to get points on the board via a 32-yard field goal by Sturdivant to take a 17-8 lead into the locker room.
Aberdeen came out on the opening drive of the second half plowing down the field. The Bulldogs chewed up 68-yards on nine straight running plays down to the 11-yard line. Junior running back Justin Lucas finished off the drive was a would-be 11-yard yard touchdown run.
But the play was called back on a holding penalty and the next play Williams overthrew a wide open receiver into the awaiting hands of Columbus defensive back Jimmy Cockrell.
"When I scored I just knew we had the game," said Lucas, who had 59 yards on eight carries on the drive. "The holding call was just a momentum swing."
The Falcons would pad their lead on their opening drive of the fourth quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Jones. Sturdivant's extra point gave Columbus a 24-8 advantage with just over seven minutes to play.
The Bulldogs however answered right back. Williams went through the air for four straight completions with the final being a 44-yard over the shoulder scoring strike to Jeremy Brandon. The two-point conversion failed keeping the score at 24-14 with five minutes to go.
But Columbus was able to put the game away o the following drive with four consecutive carries from Baker picking up 67 yards. Baker scored on a 45-yard yard jaunt down the left sideline to secure the victory.
The defensive Class 3A North half champions ended the night with 213 yards of offense with 127 rushing yards and 86 passing but the five turnovers were costly against at Class 6A opponent.
"We gave them the long touchdown down here when we were about to score and then gave them the fumble for the touchdown and things just flip-flopped on us," said Aberdeen head coach Chris Duncan[/db]. "You can't do that playing a real good football team and they are a pretty dog gone good football team. I think right there at the end we just kind of gave out because they've got way more numbers that we've got. I'm disappointed because we got beat but I saw a lot of bright spots for the future."
Lucas led the way on the ground for the Bulldogs gaining 91 yards on 15 carries.
Williams ended the night 8-of-17 passing for 86 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions while Sammie Burroughs hauled in five passes for 21 yards.
Ward finished with 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble defensively for Aberdeen.