PREP FOOTBALL: Columbia rolls over Gainesville in season opener
Brian Allen kicked his players off the practice field on Tuesday, disgusted with the offense’s effort in preparation for Columbia’s season opener against Gainesville.
The Tigers head coach wanted to deliver a message and his players delivered on Friday night.
Quarterback Jordan Smith completed 22/32 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns while running for another to lead Class 7A No. 3 Columbia to a 44-21 win over Gainesville at Tiger Stadium. Smith connected with Bobby Fulton for three of those scores, including a 55-yard bomb less than a minute into the second quarter that put the Tigers up 20-7.
That touchdown was the first of the night after the game was postponed Thursday at Citizens Field due to lightning with Columbia leading Gainesville 14-7 with 2:38 left in the first quarter. The teams met Friday morning and agreed to pick up the game in Lake City, as Buchholz and Eastside were already scheduled to face off at Citizens Field.
It was the sixth straight victory for the Tigers (1-0) over the Hurricanes (0-1).
“I’m proud of them. They left (Thursday) night clicking on all cylinders. You never like a game where there’s a disruption when you have momentum,” Allen said. “They came to school today not knowing if there would be a game today or on Saturday but they got locked in by 7:30 and they came out and executed.”
Smith and Fulton hooked up again for another touchdown — this time from 19 yards out — to extend Columbia’s lead to 27-7 with 4:17 to go in the first half. It was a dominating offensive performance for the Tigers, who tallied 366 yards and 18 first downs in the first half alone.
That included Smith’s 6-yard touchdown scamper and his 18-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marquez Bell in the first quarter on Thursday. Smith also rushed for 63 yards on eight carries.
“He’s taken a grasp of this playbook and run with it,” Allen said of Smith. “He has a natural ability with his legs but that’s something we’re going to make sure he’s not known for. It’s not just what he can do with his legs but what he has the ability to do with his arm. I haven’t held back the reigns of what we’re doing offensively. He hasn’t even hit the tip of the iceberg of who that kid is going to be, especially with the special guys around him.”
Gainesville grabbed some momentum right before halftime when quarterback Luke Matthews threw a deep ball to receiver Jalen Kelsey for a 45-yard touchdown with 1:45 to go to cut the deficit to two scores. But that momentum was squashed seconds into halftime as Jaden Williams returned the second half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to put Columbia up 34-13.
The Hurricanes responded with Matthews’ 13-yard score to Isaac Meacham but Smith and company always had an answer, driving right back down the field on an 11-play, 72 yard drive that ended with Smith’s third touchdown pass to Fulton from 13 yards out for a 41-21 advantage.
Fulton caught six passes for 115 yards to lead the Tigers.
“We were just connecting. It just happened. It was just my night,” Fulton said. “I just expected to come out and catch the ball when it was thrown to me. That was Jordan. All Jordan.”
Matthews finished 34/48 for 406 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those going to Kelsey (10 catches for 205 yards). But he also threw two interceptions, snatched by Devin Johnson and Shyheim Brown.
The game turned into a good, old-fashioned shootout as the teams combined for 1,017 yards (Columbia 580, Gainesville 437). But Columbia’s long ball proved to be the difference on Friday night.
“What we did tonight is our system,” Allen said. “It could be TJ (Jones) the next week. It could be Marquez the next week or Butter (Jaden Williams) or Lanadrick (Bradley) the next week. It’s just a matter of what we’re seeing from the defense when the plays are being called. We have concepts but we also have ways to tag routes and be able to get guys open. Jordan did a good job with his legs, our receivers understand what we have to do when he scrambles and that gave Bobby opportunities tonight.”
Kylen Callum led Columbia on the ground with 77 yards on 11 carries. Bell caught six passes for 91 yards while Jones, a 2019 four-star prospect, caught six more for 66 yards.
“We’re going outscore any team and we did,” Jones said.
NOT AGAIN: Columbia senior linebacker Ethan Umstead left the game early with an ankle injury. The senior sprained it Thursday night and tried to go Friday but he later went to the locker room in the second quarter and came back to the field in street clothes.
It was Umstead’s first game action since fracturing his ankle over the summer.
“That’s going to be something when you have a high ankle sprain that you’re going to have to deal with,” Allen said. “Hopefully he’s ready to go full speed by the time we get into district play in week four.”