• Columbia head coach Brian Allen leads the pregame tradition ahead of Friday's game against Fletcher (JEN CHASTEEN/Special to the Reporter).
    Columbia head coach Brian Allen leads the pregame tradition ahead of Friday's game against Fletcher (JEN CHASTEEN/Special to the Reporter).

PREP FOOTBALL: Columbia edges Fletcher

Tigers capture first district title since 2015 with nail-biter win

With the score tied 14-14, midway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers needed a defensive stop. But instead they received something better – a spark.

Columbia's offense was jolted when linebacker Jaylen Brown recorded a clutch interception with six minutes to play. The Tigers capitalized on the turnover as quarterback Jordan Smith found Bobby Fulton for the go-ahead 6-yard touchdown.

The seven-point lead however didn't last long. Columbia's homecoming win was in danger when Fletcher's Devon Lingle scored on a 11-yard touchdown late. But the quarterback's game-winning pass on the two-point conversion sailed off the mark.

A pair of defensive stands late was enough for Columbia to hold off Fletcher, 21-20, Friday night at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers overcame three turnovers and a bevy of penalties to secure the District 2-7A crown – Columbia's first league title since 2015.

"We had a couple things go wrong," wide receiver Marquez Bell said of the early woes. "We did somethings we don't usually do. But we did what we needed to do as a team throughout. We kept our heads up and God was with us at the end."

Columbia (7-1, 3-0) seemed destined for another district rout when it scored on its opening drive against Fletcher (6-2, 2-1). Four of Smith's 221 passing yards went to Jaden Williams for his first score of the night. But the Tigers' offense soon sputtered against a stout Senators' defense. After Lanadrick Bradley's fumble, Fulton was stripped on the ensuing drive, and this time Fletcher capitalized on the turnover.

The score was knotted when Miami commit Jeremiah Payton came down with a 24-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter. Columbia answered a couple minutes later when Smith connected with Bell for a 44-yard touchdown but Fletcher cornerback Jason Nelson responded with a 96-yard return on the ensuing kickoff.

Both teams remained tied after halftime, scoreless until the last six minutes. Despite the offensive woes during the third and early fourth quarter, Columbia's defense continued to force three-and-outs, buying enough time for the offense to execute.

"We're the downfall some games, and sometimes their the downfall," safety Ahmad Williams said of the offense. "We got to be a whole as a defense. So when the offense isn't functioning right, we got to make sure we're going out there and competing and making up for the offense."

Columbia's offense had come up empty on three consecutive drives before Lingle's pass was picked off by Brown in the fourth quarter. The Tigers took advantage of the momentum-shifter, capping off the 46-yard scoring drive with a dart to Fulton.

"We went down and scored after being in a situation where we sputtered, sputtered and sputtered," Allen said of the interception. "That right there rallied the troops and the offense got a spark at the time that we needed it. And it paid off in dividends."

Columbia not only won its homecoming game, but secured home-field advantage throughout the state playoffs by knocking off Fletcher Friday night. The Tigers are poised to make another postseason run in a couple weeks, as they did in 2015.

"All week we talked about the festivities of homecoming, float-building, powder-puff games," Allen added. "The football team sacrifices being involved in all those events. Our opportunity was here at 7:30 to make sure homecoming was a success…Moving forward we got to clean up the small things and keep getting better. We want to get 10 percent better in each of these next two weeks. So in November we're 100 percent of the football team we're going to be."

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