By Gene Phelps
BOONEVILLE – Northeast’s offense gave Holmes an opportunity to steal a victory Thursday night in the game’s final minutes.
It didn’t happen.
Northeast’s defense responded with four consecutive stops deep in its own territory – one an interception by linebacker Nick Johnson – to give the Tigers their first victory of the season, a 17-14 decision against the Bulldogs in an MACJC North Division opener.
“That’s great stuff,” a relieved Northeast coach Ricky Smither said. “Our defensive guys stepped up.”
Holmes had recovered a fumble with 4 minutes, 6 seconds remaining at the Tigers’ 16-yard line.
Northeast (1-2, 1-0 division) then watched its defenders respond to the late adversity. Razean Prather tackled running back Fred Franklin for a 9-yard loss. Then Johnson blitzed in and dropped quarterback Jamario Benson for a 10-yard loss. Lemetrius Hollins added a 4-yard tackle for a loss on Benson.
Johnson, a sophomore from Olive Branch, sealed the win with his fourth-down pick at the 2:08 mark.
“I was dropping and looked back,” he said. “I almost dropped the ball. The defense never quit. We went out there and did our job.”
Northeast saw Holmes cut its lead to three points late in the third quarter when a bad punt snap was recovered by Terrious Triplett in the end zone.
The Tigers had gone ahead 17-7 on quarterback Jarrard Randall’s 12-yard run with 12:34 remaining in the third quarter.
Northeast freshman tailback Mitchell Cunningham, who rushed for a game-high 144 yards, gave his team a 10-7 halftime lead with a 17-yard touchdown run. The scamper capped a 66-yard, 7-play drive with 1:54 remaining in the second quarter.
The Tigers scored the game’s first points with 8:13 showing in the second quarter on Chris Cooper’s 34-yard field goal. Another freshman tailback, Tez Lane, set up the score with a 35-yard run.
Holmes (0-3, 0-1) scored on a 4-yard run by Percy O’Bannon with 3:57 left in the first half.
The Tigers wore special camouflage jerseys to help celebrate Military Appreciation Night.