By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
FULTON – The Itawamba Indians had their first victory of the season within their grasp Thursday night.
And just as they went to grab the win, East Central’s Warriors snatched victory for themselves.
East Central scored 24 unanswered points in the second half, including two touchdowns in the final three minutes, to beat the Indians 24-17.
“Our defense played a heck of a game,” a dejected Itawamba head coach Jon Williams said. “But we’re still not where we want to be offensively at this point in the season.”
Itawamba (0-3) was resting comfortably at the half with a 17-0 lead, and still had the upper hand at 17-3 entering the fourth quarter. But that is when East Central (1-2) fought its way to its first win of the season.
On Central’s second possession of the period, the Indians had the Warriors stopped on a fourth down play, only to have a late hit out-of-bounds called to continue the drive. On the very next play, a halfback pass from Dennis Thames to Corey Collier was good for a 20-yard score as Central cut the margin to 17-10 with 7 minutes, 52 seconds left.
Itawamba’s offense, a no-show for most of the second half, responded by moving in 10 plays as deep as the Warriors’ 10. Then the drive stalled, and ICC missed a 33-yard field goal.
Two plays later, Central quarterback Mitch Manely pumped-faked, then hit Brock Hall for an 80-yard TD that tied the score at 17-17 with 2:27 remaining.
“We did a poor job moving the ball offensively in the second half,” Williams said. “We just left the defense out there way too long.”
On the ensuing possession, two completions moved ICC to the Central 35-yard line. But there, Darren Daniel tried to throw a pass to the left sideline only to have it intercepted by Darius Wren, who returned the ball 66 yards for the game-deciding score with 1:28 left to play.
A 38-yard kick return by Demarius Howard from Calhoun City gave the Indians a glimmer of hope, but Daniel was intercepted with 3 seconds left.
ICC’s scoring began with a bang on the first play of the second quarter. DeShawn McGaughy from Fulton took a hand-off, burst through the right side of the line, and rambled untouched 52 yards for a 7-0 lead.
A bad snap on a punt set up a short field for the Indians later in the period at the Central 31-yard line. A key fourth down conversion on a pass from Daniel to Tupelo’s Terrell Pinson kept the drive alive, allowing McGaughy to score on a 5-yard run for a 14-0 lead.
Will Goodwin added a 32-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play in the half to complete Itawamba’s scoring.
The Indians can begin their season anew next week, on the road at East Mississippi in their North Division opener.