Coaches rarely use the term “must-win game” this early in a season.
Jeff Terrill has no choice.
With his Itawamba Community College Indians sitting at 1-2 overall and 0-1 in MACJC North Division play, Terrill knows that his team’s Thursday night tussle with visiting Northwest has all the markings of a season-shaping game.
Win, and the Indians are right back in the mix in the North Division race. Lose, and the rest of the season becomes a long, hard climb back into postseason contention.
“This early in the season, it’s certainly hard to say that an 0-2 start in division would be too big of a hole to climb out of, but yeah, this game looks like one that we need to win,” Terrill said. “Our guys are a little shell-shocked after the past two weeks, but this is a new week and we have a chance to get this thing back on track.”
It will not be easy.
Ranked No. 19 nationally, Northwest brings an athletic, high-scoring outfit to Fulton this week. The Rangers are off to a 2-1 start after three straight non-division games, including a surprising 30-25 win over then-No. 2 Gulf Coast to open the season.
For an ICC team that’s reeling after two straight losses, a win over the nation’s No. 19 team could prove to be the perfect elixir to fix a slow start.
“We have a chance to get turned around, it’s just going to take a great effort,” Terrill said. “I’ve been really pleased with the way we’ve come out this week in practice. We look focused and ready to play.”
Three weeks ago, ICC faced a similar situation, hosting No. 14 Jones County to open the season. That night, the Indians dominated from the opening kick, pulling off a stunning 21-7 victory.
“We’ve been here before,” Terrill said. “Nobody really gave us a chance then, and I doubt right now that there’s any coach in the state who would pick us to win this game.”
Unfortunately for Terrill, pulling off an upset over the high-powered Rangers is easier said than done.
Led by the nation’s leading passer, Northwest has averaged 29 points per game during its 2-1 start, scoring 35 in last week’s loss at Pearl River. Sophomore QB Casey Weston (Prattville, Ala.) has passed for 1,138 yards and eight TDs in three games, averaging nearly 380 yards per contest.
“Their quarterback is a returning sophomore and he’s as good as there is in this state,” Terrill said. “Slowing their offense down will be quite a challenge.”
While Northwest will prove to be a formidable foe, ICC’s greatest opponent could be momentum. After the 1-0 start, the Indians had it. Now, two losses later, ICC is hungry for a win and searching for answers.
A win Thursday night would go a long way toward Terrill’s goal of a fifth postseason berth in six years.
“We’re not out of anything yet,” Terrill said, “but I’d be lying if I said that this game wasn’t important. This is an extremely important game as far as our season is concerned.”
Contact Brandon Walker at 678-1601 or brandon.walker at djournal.com
Brandon Walker/NEMS Daily Journal