Rangers rally for comeback victory in MACCC semifinals

Northwest to host #14 East Mississippi for MACCC title

All seemed bleak for No. 3 Northwest midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s MACCC Semifinal showdown with seventh-ranked Jones College.

Trailing 35-17 and facing its largest deficit of the season, fortunes began to quickly change for the Rangers as Northwest picked up two touchdowns in less than a minute, sparking a rally of 21 unanswered points to earn the 38-35 victory against the Bobcats, keeping the undefeated season alive for Northwest.

Neither team could get the offense going early, as the first two possessions ended with punts. The game’s first miscue came on the Bobcats’ third possession, as quarterback D.J. Smith fumbled after an 11-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Reigning MACCC and NJCAA Defensive Player of the Week Sam Brumfield popped the ball loose and Tevin Bell recovered for a 22-yard return, setting the Rangers up on a short field.

Although the Rangers quickly made it into the red zone, the Bobcats’ defense stopped Northwest at the 13-yard line. Eli Hamlin made sure the Rangers didn’t come away empty-handed, as the sophomore kicker nailed a 30-yard field goal attempt to provide a quick 3-0 lead.

Jones College once again coughed the ball up on the first play of its next possession, as Rontavious “Dude” Person forced a Robert Henry fumble. The Rangers subsequently took over from the Bobcats’ 27-yard line and scored one play later, as Xavier Davis reeled in a 27-yard reception from Ren Hefley. Hamlin followed with the point-after attempt, putting Northwest ahead 10-0 with 6:11 remaining.

Despite forcing the two early turnovers, Northwest saw its lead begin to evaporate. Jones College capped off a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Ashton Nickelberry, closing the gap to 10-7 with 2:40 left in the first quarter.

Northwest failed to gain any momentum on its next possession, but the Bobcats began a seven-play, 60-yard drive that carried over to the second quarter. As Jones College made its way across midfield to open the quarter, a 16-yard run from Henry put the Bobcats into the red zone, where they would score on a nine-yard keeper from Smith two plays later. Yohan Thompson followed with the extra-point attempt, putting Northwest behind 14-10.

Even as the Rangers were unable to make anything of their next possession, Northwest soon caught a big break thanks to the play of its defense. After Shade Foster’s punt pinned Jones College at the 1-yard line, the Bobcats pushed their way to the 35-yard line, only for Byron “Tank” Pearson to intercept Smith, returning the ball 36 yards to the 16-yard line.

Two plays later, Jamarien Bracey followed up a five-yard run with an 11-yard score, briefly giving the Rangers the lead back at 17-14 with 5:19 to go in the first half.

Jones College spent the rest of the quarter marching downfield, a drive that was highlighted by a 52-yard run from Henry. With 36 seconds left to go, Alan Follis connected with Tavion Smith on a 10-yard touchdown pass, flipping the 21-17 lead back in favor of the Bobcats at halftime.

Northwest got the ball back to open the second half, but the Rangers failed to get anything going on their first two drives. After Jones College was forced to punt on its first possession, the Bobcats took advantage of a botched fake punt attempt to start at the 34-yard line. One play later, Henry scored to extend the Bobcats’ lead to 28-17.

Northwest was able to work its way down to the Bobcats’ 37-yard line on the next possession, but Hefley’s pass was picked off by Lardarius Webb, Jr., who returned it 70 yards the other way for another Jones College touchdown. The defensive score made it a 35-17 deficit for the Rangers.

With the Rangers facing the 18-point deficit, Northwest wasted no time issuing a response. Hefley began the next drive with a 19-yard pass to Austin Howell and on the next play, connected with Jaycob Horn for a deep 47-yard score. The touchdown closed the gap to 35-24 with 7:22 to go in the third quarter.

Fortunes began to reverse more in the Rangers’ direction on the next Jones College possession. After Person and Omar Pew teamed up to push Henry back on a two-yard loss, Follis was picked off by Fred Harris, Jr., giving Northwest the ball and a short field. It took only one play to score again, as Hefley and Horn connected again on a 32-yard end zone pass, slicing the deficit to 35-31.

Defense became the story for both teams the rest of the way. With Jones College remaining ahead 35-31 entering the fourth quarter, the Rangers’ fourth down attempt failed, giving the Bobcats the ball with 11:58 to go. However, Jones was unable to do anything with the next possession, allowing Northwest to take over from its own 8-yard line with 10:36 to go.

From there, Northwest burned the clock on a 16-play, 92-yard drive that ran nearly seven minutes off the clock. One of the biggest highlights of the possession came on 4th & 6, when the Rangers’ gamble paid off with a 10-yard pass from Hefley to E. Jai Mason. Six plays later, Bracey scored the go-ahead touchdown from seven yards out, pushing Northwest back ahead 38-35 with 4:05 remaining.

With 2:02 left, Jones College faced fourth down and short from the Rangers’ 28-yard line. The Bobcats chose to go for it, instead of tying the game on a field goal from Thompson, and the Rangers made perhaps the biggest play of the year. Smith kept the ball himself for the first down, only for Brumfield to pop the ball loose one more time, allowing Northwest to recover and run out the clock.

Jones College edged the Rangers in total offense, 387-376, but Northwest outmatched the Bobcats 190-168 in total passing yards. Hefley finished with 17 completions on 38 attempts, passing for three touchdowns and one interception. Horn finished as the Rangers’ top target, hauling in four passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

On the ground, Bracey rushed for 105 yards and two scores on 18 carries. Robert Henry finished with 187 yards and a touchdown to lead the Bobcats’ rushing attack.

Brumfield once again led the charge for the Northwest defense, compiling 11 total tackles with 2.5 tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and a quarterback hurry. Person and B.J. Washington totaled nine tackles apiece, with Harris and Jaylen Powell earning seven tackles each.

Hamlin was 5-for-5 on point-after attempts and converted his only field goal attempt. Foster totaled 247 yards on six punts, pinning one inside the 20 and nailing a new career-long 56-yard punt.

Jones College was led on defense by eight tackles from Javarian Jenkins and six from Travor Randle. Four other Bobcats finished with five tackles apiece, including Webb.

With the win, Northwest improved to 10-0 on the season, while the Bobcats dropped to 8-2. The win also sends the Rangers to the MACCC title game for the fourth year in a row and the seventh time in the last eight seasons. Northwest will host East Mississippi (7-3), which defeated South Division champion Mississippi Gulf Coast on Saturday evening, 38-27.

Northwest and East Mississippi will play Saturday, November 12 at Bobby Franklin Field. Stay tuned to nwccrangers.com for further updates, including kickoff time and broadcast details.

Photo: Jaycob Horn reeled in two quick touchdown catches midway through the third quarter, helping Northwest rally from a 35-17 deficit in Saturday’s MACCC Semifinal victory against Jones College. (nwccrangers.com)

Bob Bakken

Bob Bakken is the most recognized and most trusted name in DeSoto County news and sports reporting, as readers continue to express their appreciation for his accuracy and fairness in the stories he writes. Bob provides content for DeSoto County News and occasionally is heard on the OB Pod podcast talking about area happenings. A former newspaper editor and writer, his award-winning background also includes television news producing, sports media relations, and radio broadcasting.