By David Wheeler/Special to the Journal
FULTON – The East Mississippi Lions were headed toward a second possible undefeated season.
The Itawamba Community College Indians were just headed for the end of the season.
Mix together, and shake – what a strange concoction this turned out to be.
The Indians got a superb performance from their defense, and Tyler Jackson’s 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds to play Saturday lifted ICC to a 24-23 victory over the No. 3 ranked Lions.
“I think East Mississippi is a very talented team, but 42 guys played with a little more passion than they did,” Itawamba head coach Jon Williams said.
Perhaps an understandable emotion from Williams and the Indians (6-3, 4-2), after ending a 20-game winning streak of the defending national champions in dramatic fashion.
After trailing most of the contest, East (8-1, 5-1) took the lead with 2 minutes, 37 seconds to play on a 1-yard plunge by Starkville quarterback Quez Johnson.
But ICC had some tomahawk chop mojo working.
With Mooreville freshman QB Griff Loftis completing seven passes on the drive, Itawamba moved 62 yards in 15 plays. The march included third down completions to Aberdeen’s Rashad Pargo and Ronald Carswell.
Facing a fourth down and short from the Lions’ 26, and against a gusting wind, Williams choose to call on Lafayette’s Jackson.
“Tonight I wasn’t kicking too great, but I kicked on the net a ton in the second half,” said Jackson, who had missed a 26-yard field goal in the first quarter. “I knew if my holder had a good hold, I would make the kick.
“I didn’t know what to think after.”
Jackson’s kick found its way through the breeze, splitting the uprights.
Itawamba jumped to the lead on its first possession on a 3-yard pass from Loftis to Pargo. The Indians added to that margin late in the second period on a 40-yard pass to Carswell.
The Lions responded before the half with a 5-yard scoring run by Rodriguez Moore, and tied it on a 15-yard pass from Johnson to Moore in the third quarter.
The lead was then swapped in the final period, beginning with a 31-yard field goal by East. Itawamba regained the advantage on a 21-yard run by Tobias Loftin.
Johnson had 349 total yards of offense for an East offense that was averaging 48 points a game.