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Choctaws Lose in Conference Opener
Choctaws lose to North Greenville 41-19 in their conference opener after a fourth-quarter collapse.
On a brutally hot day at Robinson-Hale Stadium, the Mississippi College Choctaws dropped their conference opener to the Crusaders of North Greenville University, 41-19, and fell to 1-2 on the season.
While they struggled down the stretch, the offense came out humming, running the ball well on their first drive and scoring an opening drive touchdown for the third game in a row. Multiple Choctaws had good carries before senior fullback Cole Fagan punched it in from a yard out for his first score of the season. However, the following extra point attempt by Ben Pledger was blocked making the lead just 6-0.
The Crusaders responded with a score on their opening drive as well, however, Collin Karhu’s PAT attempt was also unsuccessful, bouncing off the right upright and making the score 6-6.
After both teams’ next few drives sputtered, North Greenville would go on a long ten-play, 65-yard drive that ended in a seven-yard touchdown run by EJ Humphry. This time Collin Karhu’s attempt was successful, making their lead 13-6. That score would hold until halftime.
Much like in the first quarter, the Choctaw offense moved the ball well early in the third quarter. After their first possession was cut short by a Marcus Williams fumble that lead to yet another Crusader touchdown, the MC run game found its footing once again. They drove 75 yards in just nine plays and made it a one-score game with a DeAnte Smith-Moore eight-yard touchdown run. Ben Pledger's second PAT attempt was good, making the score 20-13.
With the Choctaws once again within striking distance, both teams traded punts before NGU was able to capitalize on yet another costly mistake by the Choctaw offense.
After a 51-yard punt by North Greenville’s Myles Prosser that pinned the Choctaws inside the five-yard line of the Crusaders, Smith-Moore hit Vionte Williams for a 97-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, the Choctaws were called for offensive pass interference and the score was wiped off the board. On the next play, Smith-Moore fumbled in the end zone and it was recovered by Ashton Howard of the Crusader defense, widening the deficit to two scores once again, 27-13.
The Choctaws responded once again with a long ten-play 66-yard drive all the way to the nine-yard line of North Greenville. On third down, Smith-Moore rolled out and threw into the end zone, but the ball was tipped and intercepted by Kendrick Clark.
The defense once again stepped up, forcing a three and out and giving the offense another chance with eight minutes left in the game. Smith-Moore and the offense did their part, driving 65 yards on 13 plays, and taking 4:46 off the clock before Cole Fagan punched it in from five yards out making it 27-19. But the special teams woes continued for the Choctaws as for the second time on the day the PAT attempt was blocked.
The woes continued on, as MC elected to attempt an onside kick on the next play, and Fred Billy returned the kick 57 yards for another Crusader touchdown.
“It's not a play off at all, you’ve got to block extremely hard and hold that line, and you’ve got to get the ball up,” said head coach John Bland, talking about the blocked PAT attempts.
After a three and out on the next Choctaw drive, the Crusaders would immediately strike again on a 55-yard touchdown run by Corey Watkins that effectively end that game, making the score 41-19.
The story of the day for the offense was their many mistakes and missed opportunities. Choctaw receivers did not struggle to get open downfield, but nearly every time they did the pass was either off target or the ball was dropped.
“We’ve got to take advantage of people when they're overly aggressive, that's when we need to convert on those big passes, and we had some guys that were open that we missed and we didn’t convert,” said Bland.
On top of that, the Choctaws fumbled the ball three times, twice in the fourth quarter. No Choctaws reached the 100-yard mark on the ground, but Smith-Moore lead the way with 22 carries for 8 yards and a touchdown. Cole Fagan also had a good day on the ground running for 72 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. Smith-Moore went just 3-13 with Jacob Stephens having the longest reception of the day at 19 yards.
The defensive performance was up and down, as while they struggled to stop the run at times, the defensive backs did a good job defending the deep ball. They totaled six pass deflections on the day and Nicholas Walker led the way with two. Dez Wallace led the way in tackles with six.
The Choctaws will be back in action next week, as they face Division I opponent McNeese State on the road in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Saturday, September 24, at 7:00 p.m.
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