After giving up more than 50 points in each of their first two games, the Coffee County Central High School Red Raiders will be facing another powerful offensive team in their District 8-AAA opener Friday at Columbia Central.
The Raiders opened the season with a 55-20 loss to Battle Ground Academy at home followed by a 55-20 blistering last week at Rhea County. Along with Lawrence County, BGA and Columbia are ranked two of the three strongest teams Coffee County will face this season.
CHS head coach Lee Davis acknowledges that the Raiders’ first three games are the toughest on the schedule and says that the key to staying competitive against bigger and stronger teams like Columbia is to “learn from our mistakes and play every game with passion.”
Davis has been encouraging passion and fire as a primary strategy for Coffee County this season. “We’re not a team that can roll a helmet on the field and beat anybody,” Davis said. After last week’s second straight week of giving up more than 50 points, Davis said the Raiders would prepare for Columbia by working to strengthen both the offensive line and the defense overall.
The Raiders will need all the passion they can find at Columbia. The Lions have played in the Tennessee 5A BlueCross Bowl three of the past four seasons, including last year, when they were runners-up to state champion Beech High School which was powered by University of Tennessee Commit Jalen Hurd. In 2010 the Lions were state 5A champions themselves. This season Columbia is ranked 24th in the state—two slots higher than last season—by CBS Sports’ MaxPreps. USA Today ranks the Lions 45th in Tennessee.
So far this season Columbia is 2-0 overall and 1-0 in District 8. The Lions opened the season with a 34-28 double-overtime district win against Lawrence County, and last week the Lions came from behind to beat Dickson County 21-16 on the road. Although both the Lions’ wins were by a touchdown or less, they came against two of their three toughest opponents. Last week against Dickson County the Lions were down 10-7 early in the fourth quarter but rallied to win 21-16. The Lions defense was key for the victory as Columbia forced five turnovers including three in the fourth quarter. Both games were opportunities for second-year head coach Howard Stone to fine-tune his starting lineups.
Columbia is searching for replacements for five key members of good run of late. Five members of last year’s state runner-up squad have now moved on to college play, including quarterback Matthew Markham at Harding University. In four years at Columbia Markham teamed up with running back Chris Martin and wide receiver Dre Hall to set school records in passing and scoring. Although the this season’s starting offense is still in flux, the Lions have already demonstrated exceptional depth at quarterback. In addition to starter Hayden Love, senior backup Nick Brooks and junior tailback Evari Wisener both shined at quarterback in the Lions’ overtime win over Lawrence County.
The Lions are also demonstrating excellence in the backfield. In addition to filling in at quarterback against Lawrence County, Wisener scored a touchdown and rushed for 111 yards on 15 carries. Last week against Dickson County, running back Mario Williams rushed for 187 yards and scored all three Columbia touchdowns, including two in the final-frame comeback.
Coffee County is also looking to fill a big gap in the offense left by the absence of senior tailback DeAngelo Rozier, who carried 20 times for 57 yards against BGA. Last week the Raiders called on Cody Howes to do the bulk of the rushing as he gained 85 yards on 10 carries. Howes’ speed and determination make him an excellent and ellusive runner on the outside, but it remains to be seen if he has the size consistently to gain yardage up the middle.
Kickoff if tonight at 7 p.m. The game will be held at Columbia Central’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium, just off Lion Parkway in Columbia. For driving directions, click here.