By Maurice Patton
SPRING HILL – After a couple of close calls in the two most recent Backyard Bowl matchups, Columbia Central broke Friday’s contest open early.
The visiting Lions capitalized on a pair of Spring Hill first-quarter turnovers and got a three-touchdown effort from Brady McCanless in a 27-3 victory to start the 2020 season.
“It’s been so long since we’ve stepped on the field,” McCanless said after Central faced its first opponent since a 6-3 loss at Beech in the opening round of the Class 5A state playoffs last November. “It means everything. We’re not even guaranteed tomorrow, the way everything’s going right now.
“We took advantage.”
Stopped on their first offensive possession in three plays, the Lions took went 13 yards on their next one after the defense forced and recovered a fumble. Christian Biggers, who finished with 104 rushing yards on 26 carries, went 11 yards to set up a 2-yard McCanless sneak.
Two plays later, the visitors were on the scoreboard again as defensive end Antwan Moore caught a pitch in midair and went 6 yards into the end zone – making it a 13-0 game less than halfway through the first period.
“I think this can be a breakout year for Antwan,” Central coach Jason Hoath said of the junior. “He’s faster, he’s stronger, he’s a tough kid and he’s got a motor. That outside run, he plays it well, and that put him in position to catch that toss and get in the end zone.”
Spring Hill managed just three first downs in the opening half, trailing 20-0 after a 47-yard pass from McCanless to Steven Kinnard at the 11:41 mark of the second quarter before Brett Hughes’ 38-yard field goal broke up the shutout with 3:58 remaining before intermission.
“I thought our defense got in a hole early,” Raiders coach Ben Martin said. “We came back in the second half and made some adjustments. We were just victims of inexperience on offense. We had three kids out there that were playing middle school ball this time a year ago. They weren’t expecting to be out there and we weren’t expecting them to be out there.
“Our depth became an issue. Central had a good game plan. I thought we did some good things, but not enough to win.”
Central — which rallied for a 13-12 win last year after a 31-28 comeback victory in 2018 — further extended the lead late in the third quarter as McCanless threw 40 yards to Evan Sandman for the final score of the night.
“We’ve worked hard,” said McCanless, who completed 5 of 12 passes for 128 yards and the two scores. “Once we got that first drive out of the way, we were firing on all cylinders.”
The visitors drew 13 penalties for 131 yards, but offset that by limiting Spring Hill to 73 total yards – including 10 on 37 rushing attempts – and forcing three turnovers on the night.
“Going into the first game, you know you’re going to make mistakes. I didn’t expect 131 yards in penalties,” Hoath said. “It’s all fixable, but it’s something we’ve got to eliminate. We’ve got to clean those up.
“Christian ran hard. I thought he did an outstanding job. I was very pleased with him. It would have been nice to get him in the end zone, but 104 yards is a solid night. I was pleased with the offensive line, with four new starters. In their first game, we rushed for 100 yards. Brady was effective in the passing game.”
Regardless of the outcome, just playing was a victory of sorts in light of the pandemic and everything that has accompanied that.
“Half the U.S. is shut down, and here we are under the lights,” Hoath said. “It was a great night. We felt a little normalcy. I just keep my fingers crossed that we can keep playing. I’m glad they had the opportunity.”
Columbia Central 27, Spring Hill 3
At Buford Gladney Stadium
CC 13 7 7 0 – 27
SH 0 3 0 0 – 3
CC – Brady McCanless 2 run (7:01), kick blocked
CC – Antwan Moore 6 fumble return (6:40), Max Patton kick
CC – Steven Kinnard 47 pass from McCanless (11:41), Patton kick
SH – Brett Hughes 38 field goal (3:58)
CC – Evan Sandman 40 pass from McCanless (1:44), Patton kick
First downs 9 8
Rushes-yards 32-100 37-10
Passing yards 128 63
Comps-Atts-Ints 5-12-0 8-24-0
Penalties-yards 13-131 4-35
Fumbles-lost 2-1 3-3
Columbia Central – Kayden McCoy 2-(-1), Christian Biggers 26-104, Kaelan Hill 1-1, Brady McCanless 3-(-4)
Spring Hill – Luka Boylan 10-(-27), Landen Secrest 18-4, Kaiden Martin 5-12, Remone Kelley 1-0, Joel Herring 1-(-4), Dante Prowell 2-25
Columbia Central – Brady McCanless 5-12-0, 128
Spring Hill – Luka Boylan 8-24-0, 63
Columbia Central – Blane Davis 1-11, Steven Kinnard 1-47, Adrian Hidalgo 2-30, Evan Sandman 1-40
Spring Hill – Dante Prowell 1-9, Joel Herring 4-41, Riccola Anderson 1-6, Tyson Peters 1-2, Jaylan Rucker 1-5