If the Choctaws were on cloud nine after the Friday’s Division II announcement, they fell back to earth on Saturday. The cross-town rival Millsaps Majors crushed Mississippi College, 52-19.
The Millsaps Majors entered Backyard Brawl 13 with the odds stacked against them. The Majors’ last win in Clinton was in 1954, one of only two such victories. Zak Thrasher, who had yet to throw a pass for the Majors, started at quarterback.
The Choctaws returned Jonathon Redd at QB, who has a preseason All-American target in wide receiver Alex Archer. MC also brought back three senior offensive linemen, each with at least two years of starting experience.
Coach Norman Joseph had led the Choctaws to a 5-2 record over the Majors since he came to MC in 2005. Constant changes in coaching staffs and rosters mean that there is no secret formula to winning the Backyard Brawl. Joseph prepares his team in the same way he does for every other game.
“The only difference is we have more time,” he said, “the preseason lends itself to that.” The Choctaws started their first day of preseason practice on August 15th, and for the last month their upcoming opponent has been the Millsaps Majors.
Time did not help the Choctaws in this case. Perhaps it will be better suited healing wounds, as the old adage states. After the beating they incurred on Saturday, MC will have some wounds.
Offensively, the stat lines for the two schools were pretty similar. Millsaps had 64 plays for a total of 386 yards. MC matched the 64 plays, and racked up a comparable 381 yards.
The Choctaws found trouble on Special Teams. The Majors had been without a first down in their first two drives, a testament to a strong ear
ly defensive showing by MC. With about 4 minutes remaining in first quarter, Millsaps returned a kickoff 57 yards to the MC 42 yard line. The Majors quickly marched the balance of the field, the four play drive concluding in a 23 yard touchdown pass whizzed from Thrasher to Trevor King. Millsaps pulled ahead 7-3, a lead they never relinquished.
That 57 yard return would prove to be the turning point in the game. Millsaps would score on 5 of its next 6 possessions, giving the Majors a 35-13 lead.
That was the score as the Choctaws began their first drive of the fourth quarter. On second down, Redd threw a pass intended for Archer, which instead bounced into the hands of William Harrell of Millsaps. That turnover, which led to a touchdown for the Majors, was accompanied by two lost fumbles for MC. Millsaps did not have any turnovers.
The highly touted Archer had a sluggish start in the season opener, catching his first pass on the third time he was targeted, an 11 yard reception from Redd. His next target became the interception to Harrell.
The most impressive play for the Choctaws came with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game, with substitute QB Stacey Dillard at the helm. Reserve freshman running back Bennett Rimmer muscled two strong rushes for 22 yards. Millsaps then committed a personal foul, a 15 yard penalty that advanced MC to the 36 yard line. On the following play, Dillard rolled out and heaved a flawless 36 yard touchdown pass to Archer, redeeming him from his otherwise uninspiring play. The scoring drive traversed 73 yards in only three plays and 34 seconds.
Dillard amassed 58 yards passing and a touchdown while completing 3 of 4 attempts. He added 11 ground yards on a single rush, and punted three times.
The Choctaws then attempted an onside kick, which Jonathan Moore of Millsaps snatched and returned for a touchdown.
The Majors accumulated 191 yards in punt and kickoff returns, which often placed them in great field position. The Choctaws missed both a field goal and an extra point attempt.
This year MC looked to avenge its 2012 loss at Millsaps. Given the upcoming transition of the Choctaws to DII, the 2013 Backyard Brawl will likely be the last. Nevertheless, players felt the rivalry.
“No one likes each other,” said Archer. “It’s definitely a game you don’t want to lose.”
The 2012 contest spoiled a three year winning streak for the Choctaws, who first competed against the Majors in 1920.
The series became most competitive in the 1950’s. The Choctaws had five wins to the Majors’ three, and in 1956 and 1958, the game ended in a 0-0 tie. The teams would not compete again for four decades.
Choctaws and Majors alike had been guilty of pranks and vandalism, and during a 1959 Basketball game between the schools, the rivalry climbed to its gruesome peak. Fans started a riot in the stands, and supporters of each team broke noses and shed blood.
You can read more about the history of our rivalry from a previous article here.
The schools agreed to ban competition from that point, and the teams did not face each other again until 2000.
After 13 games following the millennial reconciliation, the series score will now rest at 31-15-6, in favor of Mississippi College. The final game between the Jackson area foes will be better off forgotten by Choctaw fans. Now it is time to bury the hatchet, or rather, the tomahawk.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor