Booneville, Miss. - The Northeast Mississippi Community College football program broke into the win column for the first time this season on a wild, wacky, stormy and mud-filled evening in the City of Hospitality.
Northeast defeated Southwest Mississippi Community College by a score of 36-19 during a game that featured a 35-minute weather delay on Thursday, September 21 at Tiger Stadium.
"I'm very elated and very excited with the way they performed," said Tigers head coach Greg Davis. "We played exceptionally well in the second half. At the end of the day, it was a great win for the players. We did an excellent job overall."
The victory gave Northeast positive momentum at the end of its three-game home stretch, which was tied for the most consecutive contests played on the Booneville campus in school history.
The Tigers got off to a solid start after pushing the Bears backwards on their first drive following tackles for loss by Johnathon Edwards and Vincent McIntosh. Northeast then pieced together its most complete drive of the night.
Southwest (0-4) responded with back-to-back scoring runs by Chase Hughes and Nakia Trotter, Jr., to take a 13-7 lead with 4:09 remaining in the opening quarter of competition.
The officiating crew halted the matchup shortly after Trotter's touchdown at 6:54 p.m. local time due to a thunderstorm that brought torrential rain and lightning to the area. The teams returned to the field and at 7:29 p.m. the game was resumed.
However, the fireworks continued well after the delay came to a close. Northeast's Dazion Kincaid returned a punt 81 yards across the goal line on the first play of the second quarter to lift his team ahead 14-13.
It was the first special teams touchdown for the Tigers since Iowa State University signee Mackenro Alexander scooped a blocked field goal and raced 97 yards to the opposite end zone against Hinds Community College on September 3, 2015.
The last punt return for a touchdown by a Northeast standout was seven years ago. Deion Belue, who went on to win a national championship at the University of Alabama and play professionally in the Canadian Football League (CFL), took a punt back 80 yards on October 16, 2010 in a win over Coahoma Community College.
Neil McLaurin then pulled nearly the same trick by racing 82 yards on the ensuing kickoff to conclude a crazy back-and-forth sequence and lift the Bears ahead 19-14 with 14:13 to go until halftime.
The Tigers (1-3) eventually took a 21-19 lead into the locker room after Desmond Hunter connected with Toreano Miner, who broke free from two Southwest defenders to finish a nice 52-yard touchdown at the 11:47 mark.
Northeast used a solid second half to once again pull away from the Bears for a second straight season. The Tigers held Southwest to just 68 yards after the break and outscored their guests by a 15-0 margin.
Mistakes by the Bears preluded each Northeast score following the intermission. Sam Williams triggered the first when he fell upon a muffed punt by Southwest to set up first-and-goal for the Tigers early in the third quarter.
Karleke Oliver pushed his way across the goal line three plays later on a four-yard scamper to increase Northeast's advantage to 28-19. It proved to be the only score of the period.
Beau Lee pinned the Bears at their own seven-yard line early in the fourth quarter with a beautiful 49-yard punt. Williams tackled Trotter in the end zone for a safety moments later to put the Tigers up 30-19 with 13:22 left in the contest.
"We just came out and executed," Williams said. "I'm proud of my team. We stepped up tonight. We're comfortable and are going to keep getting better. We played liked we practiced."
Jaylon Simpson completed the dominant effort by Northeast's defense with a pick-six. The lineman grabbed a loose ball that slipped out of quarterback Juwan Adams' hand and rumbled 11 yards for the touchdown to give the Tigers their winning margin.
"It was in (the defense's) hands to win the game," said Simpson. "We went after the ball and (Antonio Moultrie) tipped the ball out of the quarterback's hands. It felt great. I will never forget this night."
Hunter was limited by the muddy surface somewhat in his debut as Northeast's starting quarterback. But he was an efficient 5 of 11 through the air for 98 yards with his first touchdown toss to Miner.
"Coach (Davis) gave me the opportunity and I ran with it," he said. "I went out there and made plays and did whatever I could do to help the team win. I'm very comfortable now."
Kenzie Phillips might not have scored, but he still had a major impact for the Tigers. He compiled his third 100-yard rushing performance at Northeast with a game-high 113 yards on 24 touches.
The touchdown runs by Mosley and Oliver were the first of their respective careers with the Tigers. Northeast tallied 238 yards on the ground, which was its second highest total of the campaign.
The Tigers held a firm edge in time of possession at 36:52 compared to 23:08 for Southwest. Northeast also limited the Bears to just 189 total yards of offense, which was its lowest since posting 90 yards against East Central Community College one year ago.
Juwan Taylor had a team-best 12 tackles to top the Tigers on the defensive side of the pigskin. He also partially blocked a Southwest punt during the rain storm in the first half.
Northeast had 12 tackles for loss as a unit, which was its most since recording that same figure last season in a triumph at Mississippi Delta Community College. Kylin Washington, Edwards, McIntosh and Williams each had two stops in the backfield apiece to pace that effort.
"The overall defensive play was outstanding," said Davis. "Obviously that was a huge part of our game tonight. I'm really proud of them and the way they came out and play. We've got to continue that mark."
The Tigers return to Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division play next Thursday, September 28 at Coahoma Community College. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at James E. Miller Stadium.