Maybe you can't coach speed. For Baylor, you can't beat strength.
Division II-AA's No. 2-ranked Baylor Red Raiders overpowered visiting Columbia Central in the second half, controlling the lines of scrimmage, the ball and the outcome with a dominant effort to close a 39-20 win over the defending Class 5A state champions.
"They have good depth and a bunch of big, strong kids," Columbia Central coach Vance Belew said. "They are tough."
The Red Raiders (7-1) were tough on themselves for most of Friday night. They failed to score twice from inside the Columbia 5 and committed five turnovers -- including Maverick Dickinson's 80-yard interception return for a touchdown that closed the Baylor lead to 25-20 midway through the fourth quarter.
"We talk about how are you going to handle the difficult times, how are you going to respond," Baylor coach Phil Massey told his team after the game. "And after the pick-six, we come out and run it right at them and push it in the end zone. That was good to see."
While the offense sputtered at times, the Red Raiders knew they had an ace in the hole. Regardless of the situation, Baylor had a go-to option. Its formal name is "Pro Left, Z over, 165." The Lions will forever remember it as a the unstoppable power run behind senior all-state offensive lineman Barrett Gouger.
"Our goal every week is to pound people up front," said Gouger, who has committed to Vanderbilt. "We had a real good drive after that turnover, and I think that's because we've got good senior leadership and no one was hanging their heads."
While the offense scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes to blow the game open, the Baylor defense was unrelenting. Columbia managed two touchdowns and 183 yards in the first half; after the break, Columbia failed to cross midfield and needed a 20-yard run on the final play of the game to net 5 yards of total offense in the second half.
"We knew we had to keep doing what we do -- play tough," senior defensive end Wyatt McRae said after recording four tackles for loss, including three of Baylor's seven sacks. "When you know the other team can't run the ball, it gets fun because you know you can get up field."
That was not the case in the opening half. The Lions used an opportunistic defense and two touchdown passes from quarterback Matthew Markham -- fades to Dre Hall and Eric Belew -- to stay within reach.
Matthew Oellerich's first of two touchdown passes -- a nice touch throw to Ryan Seaberg -- and Connor Davidson's first of two touchdown runs gave Baylor 15-13 halftime lead despite a sluggish opening 24 minutes.
"We forced a couple of turnovers and made a couple of big plays, and we were still down two at halftime," Belew said. "That hurt."
Jump-started by Henrique Ribeiro's 50-yard field goal that would have been good from 60-plus, Baylor steamrolled after the break. Reggie Upshaw grabbed a jump-ball pass from Oellerich before the Gouger and his line mates allowed the Baylor running game to take over.
After not playing at all in the first half, George Porter dashed and darted his way to 151 Baylor yards on 15 second-half carries and a touchdown. Davidson finished with 120 yards rushing and two scores.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...