“We can still be conference champions,” said Mississippi College head football coach Norman Joseph, after losing the first two games of the season.
The Choctaws dropped their following game at Webber International, but are 2-0 since. With two wins in the American Southwest Conference, MC finds themselves in first place, a surprise to many.
The wins have not been flukes or miracles. The Choctaws have worked hard and fought through two long games, and now are hopeful with half the season remaining.
Mississippi College defeated Sul Ross State University on Saturday, 34-30. Quarterback Jonathon Redd enjoyed one of his best performances of the season, completing 23 passes while accumulating 232 yards and three touchdowns. Alex Archer had six receptions for 91 yards and a score. Redd also ran for 18 yards and a score.
Eight minutes into the game, Jonathon Redd ran 9 yards to cap off a 43-yard drive with a touchdown. That drive was sustained by a gutsy 4th-and-6 play call, when Redd found Alex Archer for a 16 yard gain.
SRSU responded with 17 straight points, before the Choctaw defense got a foothold and set up a punt on 4th-and-19. That punt was blocked by sophomore Trace Lane, and led to a 26-yard field goal by Hunter Estess. The Choctaws were down going into the half, 10-17.
In week four, Lane was awarded to the D3Football.com National Team of the Week, as well as being named the ASC Special Teams Player of the week. Against Hardin-Simmons University, he returned two blocked punts for touchdowns, one for 40 yards and the other for 25.
The Choctaws were caught in a 3rd-and-6 in their first set of downs following halftime. Redd then delivered a 15-yard strike to Archer, followed by a 34-yard rush by Sophomore Dalton Welch. That brought MC to 1st-and-goal, where Redd linked up with Archer again, for a score that tied the game at 17 apiece.
The Choctaw defense then held SRSU to a single yard on their ensuing possession. When MC regained the ball, they advanced 34 yards to the Sul Ross 25-yard line. on 4th-and-15, Estess nailed a 42 yard field goal, his longest of the season. MC took the lead, 20-17.
SRSU came back with a touchdown, to regain their lead 20-24. The Choctaws first drive in the final quarter ended in a failed field goal, after which Sul Ross’ Keyon Lee scored a 34-yard rushing touchdown. MC was down 20-30 as SRSU lined up for the extra point.
That is when the momentum changed for good. Sophomore Brooks Villarreal blocked the PAT, keeping the margin at 10 points with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
MC continued strong special teams play with a 36-yard kickoff return that brought the Choctaws near midfield. After a few rushes by Sophomore Zach Favre, MC found themselves stuck on 4th down. Redd then found Freshman Dossie Rivers for a 43-yard touchdown, bringing the game to a manageable 3 point deficit.
The defense held up on the following Sul Ross drive, not allowing a first down. MC regained possession on their own 37-yard line. The Choctaws trekked down the field in a four minute drive, ending in a pass from Redd to Junior Jaime Harris, giving MC a 34-30 advantage with nearly four minutes remaining to play
The Choctaw defense again held strong, with Jake Weddle forcing a fumble, which allowed the offense to drain the clock to under a minute before returning the ball to Sul Ross. That would be the final drive of the game, ending in an interception in the endzone for the Choctaws.
Weddle has been a major factor for MC at linebacker, accumulating 63 tackles through five games. The Junior missed most of last season with an injury, but recorded a tackle on his only play.
In week 4, the Choctaws ended a six game losing streak that dated back to October of 2012. MC beat Hardin-Simmons University in Clinton, 35-49. An explosive First quarter put HSU up 28-14, but the Choctaws held Hardin-Simmons to only seven more points for the remainder of the game. Defense and Special Teams accounted for 21 points for the Choctaws, and Redd rushed for two scores and threw another.
MC is now 2-3 this season, after only winning two games in the 2012 season.
Although leading the ASC in conference record, the strongest team is the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Now 5-0 on the season, UMHB is ranked #3 in Division III football. The Choctaws will face them in their final regular season game of the season, on November 16that MC.
The Choctaws will face off against conference foe Howard Payne University next week in Clinton, at 1 p.m.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor