SENATOBIA, Miss. -- The No. 6 ranked Northwest Rangers needed 14 points in the final three minutes of the game to avoid a major opening night upset at the hands of the East Central Community College Warriors in MACJC football action in Senatobia Thursday night, Aug. 30.
The home standing Rangers overcame a 24-14 East Central lead with two late touchdown passes to get the 28-24 victory in the non-division game played at Ranger Stadium at Bobby Franklin Field on the Northwest Mississippi Community College campus.
East Central fell to 0-1 with the loss, while the defending MACJC North Division Champion Rangers open 1-0.
East Central shocked the home team with an early touchdown and the lead. On its second drive of the game and second time in Ranger territory, quarterback Mario Asagunla (Hillcrest Christian, Jackson) hit a streaking wide receiver Kevontaye Caston (Trinity Episcopal, Natchez) for a 38-yard touchdown. The PAT from Sam Cox out of Starkville Academy was true and ECCC had a 7-0 lead midway through quarter number one.
Early in the second quarter, the Warriors gambled on a fourth and one from their own 40-yard line, losing three yards. Three plays later, the Rangers were in the end zone on a three-yard run by Kevin Perkins to tie the game 7-7.
East Central regained the lead after defensive back Daniel Little (Terry) picked up a Ranger fumble and put the Warriors in business on the Northwest 31. The Warriors had to settle for a 29-yard Cox field goal and a 10-7 lead with 8:19 to play in the first half.
Northwest would get its first lead of the game with 1:27 to go before the half on a 23-yard pass from quarterback Jacob Free to receiver Braden Smith.
Just as it appeared the half would come to an end, Warrior running back James Smith III (Velma Jackson, Canton) ripped off a 23-yard run to the Northwest 35, stepping out of bounds with one second left. Asagunla then heaved a pass high into the air and a leaping freshman Jaylen Zachery (Thurgood Marshall, Dayton, Ohio) came down with the ball in the end zone as the half ended and a 17-14 Warrior lead.
East Central continued to put pressure on the highly ranked Rangers in the second half. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Warriors drove 56 yards in six plays, with freshman Marcus Hooks (Northside Christian, St. Petersburg, Fla.) pounding in from the two to give East Central a 10-point cushion at 24-14.
The Warriors appeared to be on the verge of putting the game away with 8:50 to play, but could not convert a fourth and goal from the Ranger one-yard line.
From there, it was all Northwest. Free hit JaVonta Payton with a 26-yards scoring strike with 3:12 to play to close the gap to 24-21. The Rangers then recovered their own on-side kick near midfield and five plays later Free hit Smith for the third time of the evening, this time from 10 yards with 1:27 to play and the 28-24 win.
Asagunla finished the contest 16-26 passing for 194 yards and the two scores. Caston caught five of those balls for 62 yards, and Zachery has four receptions for 67 yards. Smith finished the game with 97 yards rushing on 17 carries.
Northwest won the battle for overall yards with 539, but could manage only 92 on the ground. East Central rushed for 154 yards and passed for 205.
The Warrior defense was in the Ranger backfield a good part of the night, sacking Northwest quarterbacks five times for 31 yards in losses. Linebacker Kendrick Abney (Sylva Bay Academy, Heidelberg) led the way with 11 tackles and two sacks. Linebacker V.J. Swanier (Pass Christian) also had 11 tackles.
Freshman Steven Anderson (Purvis) had a good night punting the ball and keeping it away from Ranger returners. He averaged 41 yards on six kicks with a long of 47.
East Central will head to north Mississippi again next Thursday to face Itawamba Community College in another non-division game. Kickoff from Eaton Field in Fulton on Sept. 6 is 6:30 p.m.
The East Central vs. preseason No. 16 ranked Itawamba game can be heard on WKOZ Cruisin 98.3 or via audio stream and live stream video at www.eccc.edu/eccc-media.
Score by Quarter:
Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Final
ECCC 7 10 7 0 24
NMCC 0 14 0 14 28