Columbia edged by Bartram Trail in regional semis
Published: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 12:32 a.m.
LAKE CITY — After watching St. Johns Bartram Trail slowly run off the final four minutes Friday night with the aid of an untimely personal foul, Columbia coach Brian Allen knew his post-game conversation would sound all too familiar for the Tigers.
Much like Columbia's previous two playoff exits by single-digit margins, Allen could not help but reflect on the uncharacteristic mistakes his talent-rich Columbia teams make around this time of year.
The sixth-ranked Tigers (10-2) turned the ball over three times at home, including a costly pick-six in the second half, to fall to the visiting Bears, 29-24, in the Region 1-6A semifinals.
“At the end of the day, it's the missed opportunities by Columbia that's the difference in this ball game,” Allen said. “It seems like for three years straight that's been the common conversation has been missed opportunities when we're here in the second round or we're there in the third round. … But I'm going to my death bed trying to be a winner and for these kids to be a winner.”
Aided by a roughing-the-punter penalty that allowed Bartram Trail to prolong its last drive, the previously 6-5 Bears extended their win streak to seven games and will host Choctawhatchee in next week's regional finals.
Led by Furman quarterback pledge P.J. Blazejowski, Bartram Trail outgained Columbia 409 to 271 on the road and gashed the Tigers' defense on seven plays that went for at least 20 yards.
Blazejowski, who was picked off three times in a 35-14 regional semifinal loss to Columbia last year, accounted for one turnover and three touchdowns Friday, including a 2-yard rush that gave the Bears their final lead with 5:53 left to play. He completed 13 of 24 passes against Columbia's vaunted secondary for 152 yards and also ran for 57 yards.
“Earlier this week, (I said) I thought Blazejowski was an outstanding quarterback, and I told him that as we walked through the huddle today,” Allen said. “He's been able to manage games and he's been able to make his throws and his runs when those opportunities came.”
The Tigers trailed 16-10 at halftime after Blazejowksi threw for his second touchdown, a 12-yard bubble screen to running back David Coleman, who finished with 156 yards on 20 carries.
After Columbia's run-oriented offense struggled to gain yardage early on behind Lonnie Underwood's 25 yards in the opening half, the junior tailback found his footing quickly found his footing in the third quarter with a 47-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 17-16 with 9:54 left in the frame. Underwood would finish with 137 yards and two scores on 27 carries.
“They did a good job of coming out and being able to stop him with that,” Allen said. “He did get his as we made adjustments to the things we saw, but we've got to be able to be versatile when team's give us the pass. We're a running football team, and everybody knows that.”
Working two quarterbacks under center, Allen pointed to the Bears' interception return for a touchdown as the turning point in the second half. After Bartram Trail was held to a pair of three-and-outs, Bears linebacker Malik Rivera picked off a pass by Columbia quarterback Jake Thomas' for a 41-yard score with 4:19 left in the third to give his team a 23-17 advantage.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight when you're playing really good competition like that,” Bartram Trail coach Darrell Sutherland said. “But honestly, I feel like it is an answered prayer. I wasn't ready for this season to be over. I wanted more time with these guys, and I'm so thrilled we have practice on Monday.”