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Mississippi College Football Wins Season Opener
The Choctaws edged out NAIA powerhouse Keiser in a Thursday night matchup in West Palm Beach, Florida.
After a 13-hour bus ride to open their season at Keiser University, the Choctaw football team headed home with a win after narrowly defeating the NAIA powerhouse Hawks 17-14.
The Choctaws set the tone early with an interception by Kobe Graves on just the second play from scrimmage. The takeaway led to an early touchdown just a few plays later when junior running back Marcus Williams ran it in from seven yards out.
However, Keiser responded, and as the MC offense sputtered through the rest of the first half, the Hawks were finally able to get on the board: Bryce Veasley connected with Armani Norceus for a 15-yard touchdown pass with just 0:52 to go in the first half. The teams went into the locker rooms tied, with Keiser having dominated the time of possession and the Choctaws only producing 88 yards of total offense through the first half.
In the third quarter, both offenses struggled out of the gate. The teams traded punts until eventually, Keiser capitalized off of one, with Wendol Philord returning a punt 58 yards and putting the Hawks up 14-7 with 7:59 to go in the third.
The Choctaws had attempted to spark their offense by bringing in transfer quarterback Cameron Davis to run a more pass-oriented shotgun look. However, after surrendering the touchdown, the MC coaching staff turned once again to reigning GSC Freshman of the Year, John Henry White. The decision was immediately rewarded: White drove the Choctaw offense 65 yards on 11 plays and capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run.
After forcing a Keiser punt on the Hawks’ next drive, the Choctaws retook the lead on a 46-yard Ben Pledger field goal, making the score 17-14. The defense then held up their end of the bargain, forcing two turnovers on downs and shutting Keiser out for the entire fourth quarter, sealing a Choctaw win.
On the day, the Choctaw offense gained a total of 217 yards, 199 of which came on the ground. Meanwhile, the defense only allowed 189 total yards to Keiser. Both teams struggled to hang onto the ball, as intermittent rain was a factor throughout the game. The Choctaws fumbled five times, losing three, while Keiser lost one fumble and threw one interception.
While much has been made of new offensive coordinator Courtland Hays and the idea that the Choctaws might air it out more in 2023, they only attempted five passes, completing three for 18 yards. They then seemed to mostly abandon the passing game once John Henry White reentered the field in the third quarter. It remains to be seen whether the passing game will indeed be a point of emphasis for the team or not.
Defensively, the Choctaws looked much improved compared to last season. As much trouble as the Choctaws had on offense, the defense kept them in the game. Hayden Hill led the way with eight total tackles, two of them being tackles for loss. David Brown IV also contributed in a big way, with seven tackles and a forced fumble. Kobe Graves also created a turnover with his first-quarter interception.
The Choctaws will continue their season on the road in Wichita Falls, Texas on Saturday, September 9 as they take on Midwestern State University of the Lone Star Conference in their final non-conference matchup of the season. They will then return home to Gulf South Conference play against the University of West Georgia on September 16.
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