Booneville, Miss. - Heartbreak unfortunately continued to be the predominant theme of Northeast Mississippi Community College's 2017 campaign following the second week of competition.
Northeast fell in double overtime to East Central Community College by a final score of 27-20 on Thursday, September 7 in the first home game of the year at Tiger Stadium.
"It was a disappointing loss, but they played their hearts out," said Northeast headman Greg Davis. "I couldn't ask for anything else. This was probably one of the best efforts I've ever seen coaching for 16 years. We've just gotta keep getting better each week."
The two teams finished regulation in a 20-20 stalemate. The Warriors won the coin toss and seemed poised to win after the first overtime after the Tigers missed a 29-yard field goal attempt on their possession.
However, Northeast's defense made a tremendous stand. East Central quarterback Mario Asagunla was met by Peyton McMahon, Jamal Bolden and a host of fellow Tigers just shy of the goal line on a fourth-and-goal play to force a turnover on downs and end the initial overtime period.
"I almost blew it because I ran down and was about to call a timeout, but they snapped the ball quickly," Davis said. "It was a great defensive effort all night with how physical they are."
The Warriors, who are the reigning Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) South Division champions, rebounded in the second extra session with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Asagunla to Antonio Gibson.
Northeast could not advance the ball on its ensuing possession with the contest on the line. A pass on fourth-and-10 fell incomplete to allow East Central to break a three-game losing skid to the Tigers.
Kenzie Phillips was once again sensational in the backfield for Northeast. The Oxford native shattered a pair of previous career-high marks with 160 yards and 30 carries to guide the Tigers offensively.
It was the most rushes by any Northeast running back since Jaquise Cook, who finished his career at the University of Memphis (Tenn.), had 35 touches in a 49-42 victory at East Mississippi Community College on October 7, 2010.
Phillips' total yards are also the highest from any Tiger in the last four seasons. University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) alumnus Corbin White compiled 161 yards in a 30-9 triumph over Mississippi Delta Community College in the finale of the 2013 campaign.
"I knew I had to step up as a leader for the rest of the team and that's what I tried to do," Phillips said. "I still need to work on some stuff, but overall I did good. It feels good to know that what you work on everyday pays off."
Both squads exchanged scores in the first quarter. Dwayne Barnett gave the Warriors (1-1) an early 7-0 lead with a one-yard touchdown run less than 10 minutes into the matchup.
The Tigers cashed a turnover into points moments later. East Central punter Drake Pace was stripped of the pigskin by Kylin Washington of Fort Smith, Ark., and Yazoo County High School graduate Curtis Bullock recovered the fumble just six yards shy of the goal line.
Phillips did the rest one play later with the first of his two rushing touchdowns on the evening. Will Lang of Indianola Academy tacked on the extra point to bring the contest into a 7-7 stalemate, which lasted through the halftime break.
The Warriors took advantage of a miscue themselves when Olivier Niyungeko returned a Northeast fumble 56 yards for a touchdown to make the score 13-7 at the 12:37 mark of the third period.
The Tigers, who are ranked No. 16 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) poll, responded with their most impressive drive of the season to date. Northeast methodically marched 85 yards in 18 plays and used nearly nine minutes of clock time.
Phillips converted a big fourth down inside the Tigers' territory that kept the possession alive. He had seven carries during the drive while Oliver had four touches as well.
Hernando's Quentin Frazier, who actually started at linebacker for Northeast (0-2), capped the drive with a two-yard dive into the end zone to once again tie the matchup at 13-13.
The Tigers took a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter following another lengthy possession that lasted five minutes and 53 seconds. Phillips' second score of the night from six yards served as the exclamation point for Northeast.
East Central quickly regrouped and used a Mikell Daniels 14-yard touchdown run to force the first overtime game for the Tigers since a 25-19 win over Northwest Mississippi Community College on September 11, 2014.
Northeast outgained the Warriors by a 331-244 clip. Caleb Kitchens of Tupelo Christian Prepatory School directed the offense for a majority of the game after an injury to starting quarterback Zac Oden and completed nine passes for 55 yards.
"Our team fought really hard, but we came up on the short end," Kitchens said. "There was definitely some chemistry that we picked up on in the second half and that helped us run the ball a whole lot better plus our offensive line played a great game."
The Tigers dominated the time of possession with a margin of 36:05 to 23:55 by East Central. McMahon led the defense with 14 tackles while Washington had 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
Northeast continues its season-long three-game homestand on Thursday, September 14 versus East Mississippi Community College. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.