BOONEVILLE – Bryan Steele had never started a game at quarterback until he lined up under center last Thursday for Northeast in its MACJC North Division game against East Mississippi.
Thank goodness he had Jaquise Cook to hand the ball to.
Cook, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound sophomore tailback from Ripley, rushed for 267 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 49-42 road victory against the defending state champions.
His performance earned him the NJCAA’s National Player of the Week award.
Steele, a freshman who played safety in high school for Olive Branch, had been the Tigers’ No. 2 quarterback. A former youth league QB, he got the start when sophomore starter Clint Wilson, also from Olive Branch, quit the team.
“Jaquise played really well,” Steele said. “It took a lot of the pressure off me knowing he could run the ball. It was good having him back there.”
The victory was huge for Northeast (4-2 overall, 3-1 North Division) North Division), which remains in the chase for a postseason berth. The Tigers can take another step toward the playoffs with a win today against Coahoma (2-3, 1-3).
The homecoming kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.
Cook got the call 35 times from Steele and offensive coordinator John Darnell against a Lions team that featured four SEC signees on its defensive front.
“It’s a read option,” Steele said. “We call it Bama East. It was working, so we kept calling it.”
The play call was always to the left side, where Cook ran behind the blocks of left tackle Antonio Foster, H-back Casey Copeland, tight end Cody Woodiel and left guard Dustin Winstead.
“I couldn’t have done it without the blocking of my offensive line,” said Cook, whose previous best effort was 104 yards on 27 carries against Southwest in the season’s third game. “It was just a power play. We ran it pretty much all night.”
Cook, who has rushed for 588 yards and eight touchdowns in six games, didn’t know what kind of yardage total he was piling up.
“I figured I was around 200, but I didn’t know it was that high,” he said, then smiled.
Darnell was thrilled to see Cook rewarded with the national honor.
“He has the kind of attitude and work ethic that makes you want to coach,” he said. “He’s worked hard in the weight room the two years he’s been here. In practice, he runs first team, then turns around and runs the scout team. He never comes out.
“That’s the kind of player he is.”
– ICC at Holmes: Wins by ICC and Northeast today would make next Thursday’s game between the Indians and Tigers in Fulton a battle for second place in the North Division with two games remaining.
Holmes is winless this season while ICC has won two straight.
– Delta at Northwest: The host Rangers jumped one spot in this week’s NJCAA rankings, moving to sixth. ICC travels to Northwest Oct. 28 for its final regular season game.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal