Ricky Smither isn’t fooled.
When Northeast Community College’s football coach sat down to watch film on his team’s opponent this week, the Tigers’ second-year head man simply shook his head.
“This is not the Itawamba team that we or any other team will see this year,” Smither said of the Indians’ surprising 63-9 loss at Gulf Coast last week. “That was just a one-time thing that will never happen again. As far as I’m concerned, that game never happened.”
Smither may have the right idea. After all, with tonight’s annual showdown between Northeast and Itawamba serving as the first MACJC North Division game for both teams, the Indians and the Tigers both have a chance to ease the pain of a week ago. ICC comes into tonight at 1-1, while Northeast sports an 0-2 mark after a 42-23 loss at Pearl River. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
For his part, ICC head coach Jeff Terrill says his team has been able to move on from last week’s showing.
“I’ve been real pleased with the way we’ve come out this week in practice and gotten past last week,” Terrill said. “We were embarrassed as a team, but no matter how bad last week was, we’ve got to be ready to go against a good Northeast team.”
While the Indians’ pride may have been tested a week ago, the showdown against Northeast has been the perfect medicine recently for ICC, which has won the last three in the series, including a 12-9 win last season.
“It’s an intense rivalry,” Terrill said. “There’s always a great atmosphere when these two teams get together and this time will be no different.”
Two weeks after opening the season with a 21-7 win over then-No. 14 Jones County, ICC will look to keep an improved Northeast squad out of the win column. Though 0-2, the Tigers appear to be much better than their 1-8 finish from a year ago.
“There’s no doubt that they are a much-improved team,” Terrill said. “They have an excellent defense, one that will really challenge you up front.”
Northeast’s defensive front is led by Tennessee commit John Brown and sophomore linebacker Adam Funk. Brown, a Lakeland, Fla., native, and Funk, from Tupelo, are tied for fourth in the MACJC with 12 solo tackles each.
Offensively, the Tigers follow the lead of freshman QB Clint Wilson (Olive Branch), who has thrown for 435 yards and three scores in two games.
“We are getting there,” Smither said, “but we haven’t been able to put a complete game together yet. We’ve played well for quarters and for a half, but we haven’t put it all togeher yet. Hopefully, this is the game where everything clicks.”
Smither’s defense will face a tall task in slowing down ICC’s wide-open offense. Fulton native Bret Jefcoat has thrown for 481 yards and four TDs so far, and the Indians’ feature a wealth of talented wideouts, including DeMarcus Watts (Atlanta), who is second in the state with 219 receiving yards and three scores.
“That offense is special,” Smither said of ICC. “They spread you out and get that ball to their playmakers. Jefcoat is as steady as it gets at quarterback. It’s going to be a challenge.”
With tonight’s meeting opening division play for both teams, momentum – and bragging rights – will go to the winner.
“It’s always big to start off with a win in division play.” Terrill said. “You never want to start off 0-1, so I expect both teams to really get after it with so much on the line.”
Brandon Walker/NEMS Daily Journal