Football’s Hot Start By Elliot Reeder
A hot start to the season has given the Mississippi College Choctaw Football team a renewed sense of energy and confidence as they head into Gulf South Conference play. The Choctaws have opened up the season with two home non-conference wins over Clark-Atlanta (31-30) and Southwest Baptist (34-9) respectively, and they have opened up the season 2-0 for the first time since 2010.
The Choctaws installed a new Triple Option based offensive system under new Offensive Coordinator Tommy Laurendine over the offseason. The new Choctaw offense has been nothing short of spectacular, averaging 32.5 points a game so far this season (almost triple the average per game of last year’s squad). Senior running back Tiberias Lampkin, who is second on the team in rushing yards and first in attempts, said “just adjusting to it at first was a little challenging mentally, but now I wouldn’t trade it. Now we’re 2-0.” Lampkin also mentioned that moving to more of a fullback role was difficult, but went on to say “…after the adjustment, Coach Laurendine is a pretty smart guy, so he’s going to play to your strengths.”
Choctaw Head Coach John Bland, who is in his fifth season as MC Head Coach, also raved about the new offense and his new coordinator, saying, “It’s always good to put points on the board, no matter what style of offense you have, but Coach Laurendine has brought a new energy to our team.”
The Choctaws’ run-based offense is averaging 283 rush yards per game and has already scored six rushing touchdowns on the year. Quarterback Detric Hawthorn has flourished in the new offense. He leads the Choctaws in rushing yards with 216 and also has a team high three rushing touchdowns, not to mention his average of 8.6 yards per carry. He also has completed 10 of his 18 passes for 177 passing yards (with 1 passing touchdown and 1 interception) on the year.
The Defense has also stepped up, holding its opponents through two games to just 19.5 points per game (a stark improvement from the 32.7 points per game it allowed last season). A big part of the success on the defensive side of the ball has been the takeaways produced by a very aggressive defense. Senior Linebacker Colton Magee says that this is not by accident: “Coach instilled it in us from day one; he hammered us over the head with it. He was like, ‘Takeaways are going to win us the game,’ and we have believed that since day 1.”
The Choctaws have forced 5 takeaways (4 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery) through the first two games, including an interception with under a minute left by Elijah Rogers to seal the season-opening win over Clark-Atlanta. Coach Bland also pointed to a stretch at the end of the half against Southwest Baptist when the defense forced two takeaways in the final minute to turn a 7-3 lead into a 17-3 halftime lead as a big momentum shifter.
The Choctaws have a team full of leaders, but some who were pointed out include Lampkin, fellow running back Ja’Mori Mark, quarterbacks Detric Hawthorn and Aaron Feazelle, wide receiver Moregan Sharp, linebacker Trey Thompson, defensive lineman Dalton Frederick and defensive backs Turner Rotenberry (who returned an interception for a touchdown against Clark-Atlanta) and Corey Rholdon. Tiberias Lampkin praised all of the defensive backs as a whole, saying the whole group were leaders and one of the best defensive backfields he has seen.
A big part of the Choctaws success early on has been the crowd and a true home field advantage that has been created by the student body. Magee said, “The fan support is huge; it’s major. The more fans you have and the louder it gets, it’s always a home field advantage.” Lampkin spoke about the role the fans have played in motivating the team, “…If you got somebody riding behind you, and you got support, that stuff is big.” He also mentioned the great support from a group of students who have painted up at both home games to start the season. Coach Bland mentioned a great moment after the Southwest Baptist game when the players went over to thank and celebrate with the fans.
Mississippi College will now head into Gulf South Conference play. The Choctaws were scheduled to travel to face new GSC foe North Greenville in their conference opener on the 15th, but that game has been cancelled due to Hurricane Florence. The Choctaws will instead open up GSC play at home against 2017 Division 2 National Runner-Up West Florida on Saturday, September, 22nd. The Choctaws realize that the GSC is one of the toughest conferences in Division 2, but they will continue to take the season on a day-by-day basis and will attempt to just stick to the game plan.
This Choctaws team is a committed, attack-oriented and aggressive squad that has started the season well after improving on both sides of the ball. Mississippi College has a tough schedule for the rest of the season, but the Choctaws have momentum, have bought into the system, have plenty of talent and are off to their best start in years.