BY MARK BEASON
Oklahoma didn't find a thrill Friday night, but it did find Bobby Hill.
The Tupelo FireAnts kick returner had two touchdown returns, leading the FireAnts to a 43-32 win against the Crude at the BancorpSouth Center.
Tupelo (2-11, 2-8 Atlantic South Division) staved off a pair of comeback attempts, winning its last home game of the year. The FireAnts end their season next Saturday at Ohio Valley.
“This was a big win for us and our fans,” Hill said. “We've got great fans and we wanted to send them home with a win.”
The FireAnts got out of the gate quickly, starting its first possession on its own 14, and driving 36 yards on five plays.
Quarterback Darryl Carter completed back-to-back passes to get the FireAnts inside the 5-yard line. Running back Allen Copeland finished the drive with a 3-yard run. Eric Coure missed the extra point, as Tupelo led 6-0 with 11 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first.
The FireAnts defense set up their next score, with Eric Bingham intercepting an arrant pass from Monti Spiller. With the ball on the Crude's 15-yard line, Carter threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Surhaver Fair. Following Coure's point after, the FireAnts led 13-0, with 11:09 left in the first half.
“It was good to see our offense make some big plays,” Tupelo coach John Gore said. “That's something that's been a problem for us all year. Our guys showed a lot of character.”
A great special teams play by Hill put the momentum in Tupelo's hands. He fielded a Jim Ranieri kick and found running room, racing for a 26-yard touchdown. Coure's extra point gave Tupelo a 20-0 advantage, with 7:18 left in the first half.
“It's a natural instinct,” said Hill, who has six returns this year for touchdowns. “I have to give credit to the guys blocking in front of me. Without them I wouldn't go anywhere.”
But the FireAnts couldn't stand the prosperity. An interception by Nekemia Rich gave Tupelo the ball on their own 2-yard line. But the Crude got a safety when a FireAnt lineman was called for holding in the end zone.
The penalty gave Oklahoma (2-12, 2-9) two points and the ball, changing the momentum in the first half. Travis Booker got the Crude back in the game, scoring from 3 yards out. Ranieri made the point after, with Oklahoma trailing 20-9.
Another Tupelo miscue led to the Crude's second touchdown. Carter was intercepted by Speller, and ran it down to the FireAnts 8-yard line. Arthur Booker took it in from 6 yards out for the score. Ranieri's extra point got his team within five, 20-15, at the half.
“For a while it looked like we were going to give it to them,” Gore said. “But we hung in there and made the big plays in the second half.”
Special teams had a big impact early in the second half. Ranieri connected on a 30-yard field goal, to get his team within one, 20-19.
But the FireAnts answered with their special teams star. Hill caught the kickoff at the goal line and found a lane down the right side and scored his second touchdown. The extra point put Tupelo up 27-19, with 11:27 left in the third quarter.
“Bobby put us on his back and carried us,” Gore said. “He took the lead and the other guys followed.”
The Crude didn't back down, scoring on their next possession. On a busted play, Spiller rolled to his left and threw across the field to a wide open Travis Booker in the end zone. Ranieri missed the kick, with the Crude down 27-25.
In just his second game with the FireAnts, Coure came through with a big kick, booting a 29-yard field goal to put his team up 30-25. Prior to his arrival, Tupelo was 3-for-48 on field goal attempts, with Coure making three of his first seven kicks.
“He came through with some big kicks.” Gore said. “In this league you have to be able to come back when the other team scores and his kicks were big ones.”
Tupelo added a pair of late touchdowns, with Carter sneaking in from 1-yard out and Chris Edwards running in from 2 yards.
Ranieri added a n 18-yard field goal, but it wasn't enough. Tupelo's defense held the Crude late to seal the win.