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Choctaws Win Big in Home Opener
Football improves to 1-1 after a dominant win over Keiser
In a game that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate, Mississippi College football picked up their first win of the season. The final tally seems somewhat close at 26-8. However, the Choctaws were dominant in nearly every aspect of the game.
In a milestone 20th victory at Mississippi College for coach John Bland, his option offense was in full effect. He spoke on how far the program has come since he took over in the midst of their transition from Division III.
“The GSC is the best Division II conference in the nation,” said Bland. “Right now we're toe-to-toe with the best in the country and we’ve put ourselves in a position to win each and every week.”
The Choctaw offense came out of the gates on fire, scoring a touchdown on each of their first three possessions. They opened the game by driving 52 yards on 8 running plays and capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Marcus Williams.
After the defense forced a three and out, the offense got right back to work, this time driving 64 yards in 7 plays before Ian Theis scored on a 19-yard touchdown run, his first of the year. Quarterback DeAnte Smith-Moore set up the touchdown run by hitting a wide-open Jacob Stephens for a 28-yard gain on a third down, which was the longest completion for the Choctaws on the entire season. Smith-Moore immediately topped that by hitting Stephens again on the first play of the next drive, this time for a 53-yard touchdown.
While the offense and defense were looking dominant in the early going, the special teams unit struggled out of the gate. After the first Choctaws touchdown, Michael Shine’s PAT attempt bounced off the right upright, and on their next attempt, the Seahawks blocked the kick. Down the stretch though, execution improved as Ben Pledger’s attempt was good on their third try of the game, extending the Choctaw lead to 19-0 which held until halftime.
In the second half, the Choctaw offense slowed things down significantly, using their strong run game to bleed the clock every time they had the ball. The defense did their part as well, maintaining their shutout by continuously disrupting the Seahawks’ offense by getting into the backfield and bothering quarterback Shea Spencer while shutting down the run game.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, but the Choctaws got on the board once again early in the fourth on Marcus Williams’ second touchdown of the game, a play almost identical to his first. Keiser also finally got on the board in the fourth.
By this point, the Choctaws were using many of their bench players, and backup quarterback Devlen Woods was running the offense. After scrambling around on a third-and-long play, Woods fumbled the ball, giving Keiser the ball deep in Choctaw territory. They took advantage of the good field position, driving 22 yards on six plays, and capped off the drive as Marques Burgess punched it in from a yard out to make the score 26-8 following a two-point conversion.
The Seahawks attempted an onside kick with just 4:12 remaining in the game, but the Choctaws came up with the ball around midfield. The Choctaws then drove all the way inside of the Seahawks’ five-yard-line on the back of a couple of big carries by quarterback John Henry White, who took over the offense following the fumble by Woods. Grant Collins fumbled the ball on the Keiser two with just 1:20 to go in the game, and while Keiser was able to move the ball they could not score before time expired.
On the day, the offense put up 370 total yards and controlled the ball, winning time of possession 33:07 to 26:53. The starting offense only gave up the ball once, on an interception as Smith-Moore underthrew Stephens on a deep route in the second quarter. Smith-Moore ended up 3-for-7 with 109 yards passing and one touchdown. Stephens and Sam Wilder were the only receivers with receptions on the day as Stephens caught two for 81 yards and a touchdown, and Wilder caught one for 28 yards. Nine different Choctaws carried the ball for a total of 261 yards, with Williams reaching the end zone twice and Theis once on his only carry of the game.
Defensively the Choctaws’ front seven shut down a normally strong run game for Keiser which was only able to gain 56 yards on the ground. They lived in the Seahawks’ backfield with eight tackles for loss, including three sacks. The passing game was a little better for the Seahawks, picking up 226 yards, but was inefficient. Trey Walker led the team in tackles with six, and 19 Choctaw defenders recorded multiple tackles on the day. Tackling as a whole improved; the defense struggled to wrap up ball carriers last week at Albany State but had no trouble bringing down Seahawks ball carriers.
“We executed well,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Ridge Futral. “I think that going against the triple option every day makes you ready to face any ground threat.”
The Choctaws will kick off Gulf South Conference play next week at home against North Greenville at 2:00 p.m. The Choctaws will look to replicate their performance again the Crusaders from 2021, as they came away with a 42-21 win in Tigerville behind a dominant performance by Smith-Moore.
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