FULTON – Entering Thursday’s contest with No. 18 Northeast, the Itawamba Indians needed a victory to have a shot at postseason play.
Beginning the second half, ICC needed a comeback.
Itawamba withstood No. 18 Northeast’s best first-half punch, then gutted out a 20-17 victory in a key North Division matchup.
“If we were playing a poker game, the chips were all on the table,” said Itawamba coach Jon Williams, who was still unclear about the possible playoff scenarios, but only knew his Indians were still alive. “These kids have really matured throughout the course of the second half of the season, and have really bought in.”
The Northwest Rangers are still undefeated in division play, but face ICC next Thursday. ICC has only one loss, while Northeast and East Mississippi each have two division setbacks, with a confusing three-way tie for second place possible.
ICC (5-3, 4-1) began the second half looking at a 17-10 deficit. Adjustments helped keep Northeast quarterback Bryan Steele in the pocket, and limited the between-the-tackle running of Ripley’s Jaquise Cook, who scored on a 2-yard run in the first half.
That left the ICC offense trying to figure out a way to put points on the board. A nice 13-play drive on the Indians first possession of the half was the first step, with Will Goodwin kicking a 21-yard field goal.
In the fourth quarter, ICC drove 58 yards, the final 21 coming on a sweep by Shannon’s William Green with 5 minutes, 53 seconds to play, that put Itawamba ahead 20-17.
Northeast (5-3, 4-2) lost the ball on downs immediately after that, then an interception by LaBradford Rayford from Byhalia with 2:02 remaining iced the victory for the Indians.
“They outplayed us in the second half,” Northeast coach Rickey Smither said after the game. “They took away our bootlegs and sprint outs, and we didn’t feel comfortable in the pocket.”
In the first half, ICC preseason All-American defensive back Darius Slay scored on his first offensive play of the season, a 43-yard pass play.
David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal