Decatur, Miss. - PaDarius Martin kept the Northeast Mississippi Community College football team unblemished with a tremendous play in his return home.
Martin caught the game-winning touchdown pass with less than one minute remaining to raise the Tigers to a 24-21 victory over East Central Community College on Thursday, September 8 at Bailey Stadium.
Northeast (2-0) called its final timeout of the contest prior to an all-or-nothing fourth down play with 34 seconds remaining from the eight-yard line of the Warriors.
Quarterback Mason Cunningham rolled to his right on the ensuing play and placed a perfect pass into the hands of Martin, who was sprinting towards the home sideline one step behind the goal line while being guarded heavily by an East Central defender.
Austin Holloway's point after was good and capped an incredible 11-play drive for the Tigers that started on their own 16-yard line. Cunningham had a crucial 19-yard run that got Northeast into the Warriors' territory earlier in the possession.
It was a very memorable first career touchdown for Martin, who graduated from Southeast Lauderdale High School and was playing in the closest game this year to his native Meridian.
"The coaches had faith in me," said Martin. "They called that play in the huddle and I said, 'This is it right here. I've got to make it happen. This is my moment I've been waiting on.' I've been saying the whole week I was going to make a clutch play and I made it."
The Tigers' defense sealed the triumph in the waning moments as East Central pushed near midfield. Peyton McMahon made a nice diving pass break up and Johnathon Edwards batted down a Hail Mary attempt by the Warriors as the final horn sounded.
McMahon also had his inaugural interception at Northeast earlier in the matchup. The DeSoto Central High School alumnus notched four tackles and was part of a linebacker group that totaled 27 stops as a unit.
"I was kinda down at halftime and coach (Dustin) Jones came over and was like, 'We're going to need you. Just keep your head in the game,'" McMahon said. "I just went out there and made plays like he wanted me to."
Holloway accounted for the first points of the contest just as he did one week ago. His career-long 37-yard field goal completed an 18-play drive that lasted over seven minutes and gave the Tigers a 3-0 advantage.
East Central (0-2) scored twice in the second period to take a 14-3 lead into the locker room. Dominic Marino found Antonio Gibson for a 47-yard touchdown while Dwayne Barnett scampered into the end zone from six yards away.
Northeast responded on its initial possession of the second half. Tight end Ross Painter's first catch at the collegiate level was a 13-yard touchdown from Cunningham on a pivotal third down that cut the Tigers' deficit to 14-10.
Kenzie Phillips pushed Northeast ahead once again with a one-yard touchdown plunge with 2:54 remaining in the third. It was his second score on the ground in as many outings with the Tigers.
The Warriors erased Northeast's advantage with a four-yard touchdown sprint from Mikell Daniels early in the fourth quarter that set the stage for the thrilling last minute heroics.
The Tigers outgained East Central by nearly 200 yards. Northeast compiled 431 total yards, which was its largest output since racking up 530 yards in a win at Coahoma Community College last season.
Cunningham was 27 of 44 for 297 yards and zero interceptions through the air. It is the most passing yards by a Northeast quarterback since Trace Lee tossed for 312 yards on October 9, 2014 at Itawamba Community College.
His 27 completions are the most by a Tiger signal caller since Clint Wilson was successful on 28 throws during an overtime matchup with Hinds Community College on August 27, 2009.
"When you have a break throughout the summer, it's tough to get back in the groove," said Cunningham. "The main thing this week for me was to try to take care of the ball. I got the nerves out and learned from my mistakes."
Dorian Banks flirted with his first 100-yard performance in a Northeast uniform. He ended up just short of that mark, but did finish with career-bests of 22 carries and 95 yards to pace the Tigers.
Reigning Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) All-State selection Demarcus Rogers recorded a game-high 12 tackles. Brandon Tillman and Brenden Williams each tallied seven takedowns as well.
Northeast accumulated 27 first downs compared to just 13 for the Warriors. The Tigers were perfect on four fourth down conversions and were only penalized six times in the entire contest.
"This is a special group of kids," Northeast head coach Greg Davis said. "They kept battling and just went back and forth. These guys are playing extremely well on defense and offensively we've got some playmakers. I'm proud of them."
The Tigers remain unbeaten through their initial two matchups for the first time since the 2011 campaign. Northeast won five consecutive contests to begin that season and eventually qualified for the state playoffs.
Northeast opens the MACJC North Division portion of its schedule on Thursday, September 15 at East Mississippi Community College. Kickoff between the Tigers and the Lions (1-1) is slated for 7 p.m. in Scooba.