By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – In many respects, it really is a new football season for the Northeast Community College Tigers.
A two-game losing streak at the end of the regular season appeared to doom the Tigers post-season hopes. Now the Northeast team has a second chance in today’s 2 p.m. matchup against Gulf Coast in the first round of the Mississippi playoffs.
“The East Mississippi loss took the wind out of our sails, and we never really bounced back,” said head coach Ricky Smither of an Oct. 8 63-35 loss. “In the back of their minds, they had wanted to win the North so bad, that it set them back a little bit.
“The team came in Monday and found out they could still win a state championship, it was almost like the first day of two-a-days again. Our practice Tuesday was as good as I’ve seen since the beginning of the year.”
The Tigers (6-3, 4-2) will need ever edge against the South No. 1 seed Gulf Coast (8-1, 6-0). The South champions come in as the No. 6 ranked team in the nation, and field a strong running offense and stingy defense, much like Northeast.
James Gillum leads the Gulf Coast ground attack with 776 yards, and his 97.0 average per game is 12th in the nation. And the Gulf Coast defense is ranked 19th in the nation in total defense.
Gulf Coast’s only loss of the season was its 34-30 defeat by East Mississippi in the its opener.
“They are sound in every aspect of the game,” Smither said. “Offensively for us, it’s going to be a street fight.
“Defensively, we need to go back to the first four or five weeks of the season and play at that level. Our defense has pretty much responded to every challenge this season, and are excited about this challenge.”
The Northeast defense is ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense, with defensive back Frankie Lee of Charleston tied for seventh in the nation with five interceptions.
Offensively, running backs Michael Poole of Ripley and Garrett Smith of Starkville could be key, along with the special teams talents of Deion Belue.
On a side note, Gulf Coast head coach Steve Campbell was an assistant coach at Delta State while Smither was a player there.
“A lot of my stuff as coaching came from him,” Smither said. “It’s going to be fun standing across the sidelines from him.”
Hinds at East Mississippi
In the state playoffs in Mississippi junior college football, North Division No. 1 seed East Mississippi is hosting South No. 2 Hinds at 2 p.m. today.
East is ranked No. 3 in the latest national poll, while Hinds in No. 14.
Hinds (7-2, 5-1) lost to East (9-0, 6-0) Sept. 8 20-17.
The winner of this contest faces the winner of Gulf Coast-Northeast Nov. 12 for the state title.