EL CAMPO — With its high-power Wing-T offense controlled by the El Campo Ricebirds much of the game, the Columbia Roughnecks relied on their defense to win the battle for the No. 2 seed in District 13-4A with a 17-9 victory Friday night.
Columbia’s victory not only was hard-fought, it was historic — the ’Necks hadn’t won in El Campo since 1987, Columbia head coach Brent Mascheck said.
“Defensively, I thought our team did great,” he said. “Offensively, they did some things that we weren’t ready for and we had some problems blocking them. It was a total team effort.”
Both defenses stepped up on a chilly night. El Campo shut down nine of Columbia’s dozen offensive drives and forced a pair of turnovers. The ’Necks were even stingier, though, winning the turnover battle with five takeaways — turning two of them into points.
After a Ricebird interception, the Roughnecks used a six-play, 30-yard drive to take the lead, 10-7, in the third quarter.
“You can’t give a good team like that extra possessions,” Ricebirds head coach Wayne Condra said. “We’ve been able to control that the past few weeks, but tonight we couldn’t.”
The El Campo offense kept trying to run the ball but found little success. The Roughnecks sealed off cutback lanes and limited the Ricebirds to two first downs in their next four drives.
Junior Cullen Braden fired off a punt with six minutes left that pinned West Columbia inside the five. Two plays later, senior Javien Williams sacked the Roughneck quarterback Cameron Ward in the end zone to make it a one-point game and give the Ricebirds late momentum.
The Ricebirds took the free kick at their own 33 and started driving with less than four minutes left in the game. Facing a crucial third down, Braden connected with senior Conner Williams for a 15-yard pass and a first down to keep the drive alive. But on the next play, the Ricebirds coughed up their third fumble of the game and Columbia recovered.
Content to run the ball out and end the game, a Ricebird defensive breakdown led to a Roughneck touchdown run with 40 seconds left in the game and a 17-9 lead.
El Campo wasn’t ready to quit, though, and returned the ensuing kickoff to the Columbia 25 with 25 seconds remaining and no timeouts.
A pass into the end zone on first down was broken up by Columbia, and a hook-and-lateral on second down netted just 10 yards and forced the Ricebirds to spike the ball with 2 seconds remaining. Braden’s pass as time expired fell incomplete, but the Roughnecks were flagged for roughing the passer, giving El Campo one last chance.
With the ball at the 10, Braden rolled out and fired into the end zone, but a Columbia defender batted the ball away to end the contest.