-Andy O’Brien, Assistant Editor
After all the changes that the Mississippi College athletic department has made over the past year, the football team eased the transition by opening the season against a familiar foe.
The Choctaws crossed the metro area to take on the Belhaven Blazers of Jackson Saturday night. MC was down 14-20 entering the fourth quarter before the Blazers pulled away to win, 32-14.
The first game of the season for Mississippi College kicked off the second year of candidacy as the school continues down the path to return to Division II and Gulf South Conference membership. For the 2014-2015 year, the Choctaws will compete against Division II schools, but will remain ineligible for NCAA-affiliated playoffs until the 2016-2017 season.
In Saturday’s game, Mississippi College freshman Kyle Smith ran for 58 yards as he shared time at quarterback with the incumbent, senior Jonathon Redd. Through the air, the two signal-callers combined to go 6-17 for 31 yards. Choctaw newcomer Chris Ingram, a transfer from Itawamba Community College, led the team with a touchdown and 70 yards in 15 rushing attempts.
Head coach John Bland made his Mississippi College debut, implementing the run-oriented offense that brought him success as head coach at the University of the Cumberlands. The Choctaws amassed 146 yards in 39 rushes on the night.
Belhaven also went through numerous changes in the offseason, applying to take MC’s vacancy in the Division III American Southwest Conference. The Blazers also picked up a new head coach in Hal Mumme, former head coach of the University of Kentucky and one of the founders of the “air-raid” offense. Connor Preston of the Blazers went 30-45 for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
Reggie Bennett led MC defensively with 10 tackles. Seth McDonald and Jake Weddle each added nine tackles, and Jordan Jones had the team’s only unassisted sack.
The Blazers marched down the field to start the game. On first and 10 on the MC 11-yard line, C.J. O’Quinn and Jonotario Woodcox collaborated for a 15-yard sack that would lead to a turnover on downs for Belhaven.
The Choctaws were unable to move the ball far, and a fumble gave Belhaven a short field. Preston found Darien Thomas in the end zone for a 12-yard score. It was the first of three consecutive drives that ended in touchdowns for the Blazers.
On the third drive of the night for the Choctaws, Smith took the reins of the offense. The Petal, Miss. native started the drive with a nine yard rush, followed by a 15-yard carry by Adrian Cerrato. Ingram followed with a 54-yard sprint to score for MC, making the score 13-6.
The Blazers scored on the ensuing drive, but the Choctaws responded. Smith started the drive again, this time with a 21-yard scamper. He added another run of 14 yards, then connected with Jaime Harris for seven yards. After a few more plays from the ground, Smith finally found the goal line on a seven-yard score. The Choctaws trailed 14-20, and would not score again for the remainder of the game.
Both teams were held scoreless in the third quarter. Belhaven secured the win with a 12-point fourth quarter. The Blazers have now won the last two meetings between the two Jackson-area teams, but the Choctaws lead the all-time series 3-2.
Next weekend, Mississippi College will host the University of North Alabama. The Lions are ranked #6 in the D2football.com poll, and will open their season in Clinton. UNA has won a record three national championships in Division II.
It will be the first home game of the season for the Choctaws and Head Coach John Bland. The game will be at 7 p.m. on September 13, and will be broadcast online by ESPN 3 and on the radio on STAR 93.5 in Clinton.