Poplarville, Miss. - L.J. Hawkins took advantage of the extra time that Northeast Mississippi Community College's football squad received to prepare for its first weekend contest of the year.
Hawkins accounted for three touchdowns to help the Tigers ruin Pearl River Community College's homecoming activities with a 26-23 victory on Saturday, October 17 at Dobie Holden Stadium.
"It just started at practice," said Hawkins. "The continued reps that we get in our one-on-ones, I try to take it over to the game. I was happy to be there and put our team up. I think this will keep me motivated."
The Water Valley native pushed Northeast ahead 12-3 early in the second quarter with his first score of the afternoon. Starting quarterback Kendrick Doss barely escaped pressure from the Wildcats before connecting with Hawkins for a 12-yard touchdown.
Pearl River responded quickly in what turned into a back-and-forth affair. The Wildcats cashed in on a 68-yard kickoff return by Tarvarious Moore two plays later on Kevon Marsh's sprint across the goal line.
Hawkins lifted the Tigers ahead by two possessions at halftime with an incredible diving catch in the end zone on a perfectly placed pass from Bailey Walker. Austin Holloway's successful point after pushed Northeast ahead 19-10.
Both of Pearl River's scores after the break were the result of turnovers by the Tigers. Marshall Kranz found Neicell McNair for a 29-yard touchdown moments after a Northeast fumble to cut the Wildcats' deficit to 19-16.
But the Tigers put together a crucial response with an 87-yard drive that took four minutes and 53 seconds. Hawkins made a leaping grab over a single defender in the back right cover of the end zone for his final touchdown of the contest.
Northeast maintained its 26-16 advantage for a majority of the fourth quarter, but an interception gave Pearl River another opportunity. The Wildcats turned the miscue into points on a Darreal Cook scoring reception.
Pearl River did not receive the chance to take the lead after the Tigers (2-6) ran out the final four-plus minutes on the clock with a healthy dose of Tiberias Lampkin and Doss on the ground.
Walker gained eight yards on a fourth-and-two play with only seconds remaining to secure the road win for Northeast. Doss made a huge third-down conversion toss to Cameron Montgomery during the possession as well.
"I told them in the huddle to just give me the ball," Walker said. "It was an unbelievable win. I'm so proud of them. We just came out here and played as hard as we can."
Hawkins set new career-highs with six catches and 77 yards. He now tops all Tigers with four receiving touchdowns during his initial campaign on the Booneville campus.
Doss was solid in the pocket for Northeast with 131 yards through the air and a 50 percent completion rate. The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) transfer added his team-high seventh rushing score of the season in the opening quarter.
Lampkin had a game-high 79 yards while toting the pigskin for the Tigers. Walker also recorded 108 yards between passing and running during his time behind center.
Northeast halted the Wildcats' offense for a majority of the matchup. Pearl River (2-6) was held to just 32 rushing yards for the entire game and to a 36 percent mark on third down efficiency.
"The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and that's exactly what we needed to do," said Tigers head coach Greg Davis. "All eight or nine of those guys that were rotating in did extremely well. We have a lot of good football players up front and they competed hard."
Justin Williams guided that effort with a season-best nine tackles. The reigning Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) All-State selection had one sack for a loss of seven yards as well.
"They just kept finding a way," Davis said. "These guys fought till the end. We locked in and we focused and that was the thing. These kids believed. I'm very proud of them and what they accomplished."
The win by the Tigers was just the second in program history at Pearl River. Northeast's only other triumph in Poplarville was a 35-25 decision in 1989 under the watch of former headman Johnny Plummer.
The Tigers conclude their 2015 season with a MACJC North Division tilt at Holmes Community College (3-5) on Saturday, October 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Ras Branch Stadium.