The Copiah Academy football team overcame a lot of obstacles this fall, losing their starting quarterback before the season even began and battling through assorted injuries along the way. For more than three quarters last Friday night, it looked like the Colonels would whip East Rankin in Pelahatchie and earn a spot in the MAIS playoffs. But the Patriots rallied in the final minutes to edge CA 34-28, securing a berth in the playoffs and ending the Colonels’ season. Both teams finished at 6-5.
East Rankin took the opening kickoff and marched steadily downfield, but failed to connect on a 28-yard field goal. On their first possession, the Colonels picked up 12 yards and a first down when senior quarterback Barron Miller connected with senior wide receiver Adam Pitts. After the drive stalled near midfield, punter Doug Strait pinned the Patriots back to their own 17-yard line.
The CA defense held, giving the Colonels great field position at midfield following a punt. Miller passed 13 yards to Pitts, and senior running back Kelton Smith picked up 11 yards on 4th-and-2. The 11-play drive ended when Smith ran 8 yards and dove over a defender into the end zone for a touchdown. Senior kicker Brandon Baker added the first of his four PAT’s, and Copiah led 7-0 midway through the second period.
East Rankin wasted little time responding as three plays later, quarterback Jacob Weldon scrambled 57 yards for a touchdown. J. D. Houston kicked the PAT, tying the score 7-7 with 4:43 remaining in the half.
The Colonels kept the pressure on as Miller completed a 30-yard pass to Pitts. Two plays later, freshman running back Cooper Henry raced 46 yards for a touchdown. Baker booted the PAT, and CA led 14-7 with 2:52 left until halftime.
However, East Rankin continued to match the Colonels as Blake Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the CA 33. That set the stage for a pair of pass completions from Weldon to Tyler Rhodes that moved the ball down to the CA one. A pair of penalties and Brandon Baker’s sack moved the Patriots back to the 15, but Weldon came to the rescue as he scrambled up the middle for a TD. Houston added the PAT, tying the score 14-14 with 30 seconds remaining in the half. East Rankin’s Blake Callahan recovered an onsides kick that gave the Patriots one last scoring chance, but Houston’s 40-yard field goal attempt with 9 seconds left was wide right.
Second Half Action
Midway through the third quarter, Copiah’s Barron Miller intercepted an East Rankin pass at his own 42. From there, CA went 58 yards in 10 plays, with Kelton Smith blasting his way into the end zone from 3 yards out. Baker’s PAT gave the Colonels a 21-14 lead with 2:55 left in the period.
However, the Patriots came roaring back 90 seconds later as Weldon threw a 60-yard pass to Macauley Gibson to knot the score 21-21. The excitement continued when CA’s Cooper Henry fielded the ensuing kickoff and ran it back 55 yards to the East Rankin 25. Smith then picked up 10 yards and 15 yards, respectively, diving into the end zone for the go-ahead TD. Baker’s kick gave the Colonels a 28-21 lead with 41 seconds left in the quarter.
Early in the fourth period, Smith had a 48-yard run that moved the ball to the East Rankin 28. But the drive stalled, forcing the Colonels to try a 42-yard field goal that was no good. Two plays later, the Patriots tied the score 28-28 on Gibson’s 67-yard TD run.
Following the kickoff, CA started from deep within its own territory. This time East Rankin’s defense held and forced the Colonels to punt, giving the Patriots great field position at the CA 38. Two plays later, Gibson ran 29 yards for the clinching touchdown with 4:40 remaining.
Henry returned the kickoff to midfield, and after Miller completed an 18-yard pass to Pitts, the Colonels moved the ball down to the East Rankin 21. However, four straight incompletions turned the ball over and ended any hopes of a CA comeback.
“We played from behind the whole way,” Patriots second-year head coach Matt Butts said afterwards. “I thought the turning point came after we tied the game 28-28. I challenged our kickoff team. I told them if they would do their job, then the defense would stop Copiah three-and-out and our offense would score the winning touchdown. We were fortunate; that’s what happened.”
Butts paused to praise the Colonels. “Copiah’s courage is most impressive,” he noted. “Everyone in this locker room has great respect for their team and staff. They’ve had a lot of adversity, and we told our team all week about their character. They have a phenomenal staff and some phenomenal players.”
“We had a bunch of chances to win the game,” CA head coach Scotty Cline said. “Our players fought all night and all season. They’ve been fun to coach, and we’ve had some good results. Tonight we knew the kind of threat their quarterback was, and we stopped him most of the night. But they made about 5 big plays, and that was the difference.
“I’m proud as I can be of our guys – and I’m real proud of our seniors,” he concluded. Playing their final game for Copiah were Brandon Baker, Barry Blackwell, Kelton Smith, Adam Pitts, Peyton Whitehead, and Barron Miller. Senior quarterback Devin Harper, unable to play after breaking his leg in a preseason car accident, was also an important member of the Colonels.