COLUMBIA, Tenn. – Columbia Central took advantage of opportunities.
The Owls are done.
The Lions are moving on.
Columbia fell behind early, but scored 31 straight points to defeat Ooltewah, 31-13, Friday in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Class 5A football playoff semifinals at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on a cold, breezy night.
The Lions (11-2) advance to the semifinals and will host Powell next Friday night. Powell (11-1) defeated Tennessee High of Bristol, 31-10.
“You guys have reached the semifinals three of the last four years,” Columbia Central coach Howard Stone told his players after the game. “Not many teams do that.”
It was Ooltewah’s first quarterfinal loss in four appearances. The Owls close shop at 9-4.
“They played better than us in the second half and we couldn’t take capitalize on that one big opportunity in the red zone in the third quarter,” Owls coach Shannon Williams said. “They just outplayed us. That’s a really good football team and they’re going to be dangerous going down the road.”
Columbia, which won a Class 5A title in 2009 and reached the semifinals in 2010, are now just one win from appearing in their second championship game in three years. The Lions lost in the first round last year, but they’re making up for that setback this time around.
“This is big,” Lions coach Howard Stone said. “It means so much to the community, to me and the kids.”
Ooltewah, which came into the quarterfinal matchup riding a seven-game winning streak that followed a three-game losing streak, jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter.
But the Lions flipped on a switch and their offense began to dominate the game while at the same time Columbia’s defense discovered a way to stop Desmond Pittman’s hard-charging ground assault – he had 96 yards rushing on 20 carries in the first half, but only 11 in the second half before leaving with an injury.
What turned it around?
“Nothing,” Stone said. “Nothing turned it around. We just started playing hard. We have worked and worked to overcome adversity all year.”
Hall, a 5-foot-11-inch, 165-pound senior considered a Division I prospect, turned in a masterful performance and the Owls had problems with him, whether he was playing offense or defense.
Hall caught seven passes for 100 yards, with touchdowns on receptions of 57 and 13 yards from quarterback Matthew Markham. Hall’s first touchdown catch and Nolan Bones’ extra point kick gave the Lions a 14-13 lead with 2:50 left in the second quarter.
Defensively, Hall had two of the Lions’ three interceptions thrown by Owls quarterback Brody Binder.
“The last five ballgames he’s come around and become a tremendous impact player,” Stone said. “People won’t punt to him, they avoid him and we told him he’s going to have to make plays in other ways. And he did.”
Markham ignited the Lions’ offense after the Owls had a bead on running backs Chris Martin and Mario Williams. The 6-foot, 200-pound senior completed 12 of 17 passes for 184 yards and the two touchdown strikes to Hall.
Martin got on track in the second half and gained 109 yards on 25 carries and scored on runs of 5 and 1 yard. Martin’s first score started the Lions’ 17-point second quarter that left the Owls reeling and down, 17-13, at halftime.
Binder got the Owls started quickly.
He found Mike Williams on a 29-yard touchdown toss with 6:45 left in the first quarter, but a bad snap kept the Owls from getting off an extra-point kick.
With 8:15 left in the second quarter, Binder scored on a 5-yard run to cap a 78-yard drive and the Owls were out front, 13-0.
After Martin and Hall touchdowns, Bone boomed a 47-yard field goal with 6.2 seconds left in the half and Columbia went to the dressing room with all the momentum.
Columbia's 17 points came in the final 5:55 of the second quarter.
With 9:11 left in the third quarter, the Owls caught a break when the Lions’ Ian McNeese couldn’t catch Colin Self’s punt. Phillip McClain recovered the ball and Ooltewah was in business at Columbia’s 15.
Running back Jon Hill, in for Pittman, was stopped for no gain. On second down, Hill was tackled for a 3-yard loss by the Lions’ Maverick Dickinson. Facing third-and-13, Binder’s pass to Mike Williams in the end zone but Hall made the interception.
“This is big,” Hall said after the Lions secured their fifth straight win after losing to Chattanooga Baylor, 24-7, on Oct. 12. “Good players make big plays in big-time games, and that’s what I try to do.”
As if Hall’s end zone thievery wasn’t enough, the Lions then marched 80 yards on 13 plays for a back-breaking touchdown with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter. The first 12 plays in the drive drained the third quarter clock.
And Martin’s 1-yard run actually sealed the Owls’ doom.
With his 109-yard effort against the Owls, Martin now has rushed for 1,058 yards on 177 carries, an impressive 6.0-yard average.
When Binder was picked off a third time – McNeese got this one and returned it 25 yards to the Ooltewah 15, the Owls’ defense still had a little fight left. They forced Columbia into a fourth-and-eight at the Ooltewah 13.
Columbia lined up for another Bone field goal.
But Stone called time out.
The Lions went back on the field and lined up for an offensive play.
Markham fired a scoring strike to Hall, just at the right pylon for the touchdown with 90 seconds left on the clock.
By that time, the Lions were looking ahead to next week’s semifinal showdown against Powell.
“We’re just excited about them coming in here,” Stone said. “I told the guys they have to play hard. I believe – and they certainly believe – in what they can do.”
Ooltewah, held 20.9 points below its scoring average, can only think what might have been. The Owls had reached the semifinals three times before, but were winless against Riverdale (35-7), Smyrna (28-25) and Oakland (35-0).
They’ll have to wait on a fourth trip to the semis.
“We’re disappointed,” Williams said. “We thought we could come over here and get a win by playing well, but obviously we didn’t play well. We didn’t do a good job preparing them, but this team has come about as far as any I’ve been around.
“We were a pretty dang good football team here at the end of the year. We just lost to another good football team and certainly wish them the best.”
Ooltewah 7 6 0 0 – 13
Columbia Central 0 17 0 14 – 31
OOL – Mike Williams 29 pass from Brody Binder (bad snap), 6:45
OOL – Binder 5 run (Laszlo Toser kick), 8:15
COL – Chris Martin 5 run (Nolan Bone kick), 5:55
COL – Dre Hall 57 pass from Matthew Markham (Bone kick), 2:50
COL – FG Bone 47, :06.2
COL – Martin 1 run (Bone kick), 11:56
COL – Hall 13 pass from Markham (Bone kick), 1:30
First Downs 9 12
Rushes-Yds. 34-106 39-114
Passing Yds. 61 184
Com.-Att.-Int. 7-12-3 12-17-0
Total Offense 167 298
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Punts.-Avg. 4-43.7 6-34.2
Penalties-Yds. 4-21 4-25
RUSHING — Ooltewah: Desmond Pittman 22-107, Jon Hill 10-13, Phillip McClain 1-minus 3, Brody Binder 1-minus 11; Columbia Central: Chris Martin 25-109, Matthew Markham 8-16, Mario Williams 2-8, Team 4-minus 19.
PASSING — Ooltewah: Binder 7-12-3 61; Columbia Central: Markham 12-17-0 184.
RECEIVING — Ooltewah: Mike Williams 3-44, Shawn Montgomery 2-11, Stuart Doss 2-6; Columbia Central: Dre Hall 7-100, Ian McNeese 3-61, Jackson Harris 2-23.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)