CARUTHERSVILLE - The New Madrid County Central Eagles football team invaded Hopke Field in Caruthersville on Friday night and caged the Tigers 30-29.
The difference in wins and losses are sometimes determined by inches. On Friday night, an inch was indeed the difference as Caruthersville's quarterback Keith Creekmore was denied by the interior defensive line of the Eagles on a two-point conversion attempt as Creekmore came up inches short of paydirt.
With the score 30-23 in favor of NMCC, the Tigers started a long drive with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. After a great catch by Rashad Fields of Caruthersville for 20 yards and hard-nosed running by running back Kendrickus Reed, the Tigers were threatening on the Eagles' 6-yard line with 55 seconds in the game.
Reed scored on a 6-yard run and the score was 30-29. After a timeout, coach Brad Gerling gambled and decided to go for the two-point conversion.
In the game, Reed rushed for 194 yards up to the point of the conversion attempt and had scored earlier on a two-point conversion but Gerling opted to call for a quarterback sneak with Creekmore who weighs 20 pounds less than Reed.
At the snap of the football, Creekmore surged forward behind center Ted VanAusdall. Tiger fans leapt to their feet in anticipation of a successful two-
point attempt. However, officials ruled that Creekmore came up inches short of the goal line.
After the Eagles recovered the onside kick, they ran the rest of the 55 seconds off the clock and prevailed 30-29.
Gerling thought it was all a matter of momentum on the play call at the end of the game.
"We had all the momentum and the kids were all for it," said Gerling. "He got that conversion. His helmet and pads were over the goal line. Just didn't get the call."
Coach Arlen Pixley of the Eagles was happy with the outcome of the play on the goal line.
"It was a gutsy call no doubt about it," said Pixley. "They had all the momentum and I guess they were trying to get the win at home."
NMCC started off the scoring in the game after Reed fumbled on the first play of the game for the Tigers and NMCC had great field position.
Antonio McIntosh scored a 7-yard touchdown run at 8:27 of the first quarter. After the PAT, the Eagles led 7-0.
After receiving the kickoff, the Tigers fumbled on their second play on offense but were bailed out by their defense who stiffened and held the Eagles out of the end zone.
Caruthersville got rolling on their third series of offense as Reed scored on a 23-yard touchdown run. Reed got two points for the Tigers on a conversion run and Caruthersville led 8-7 after one quarter.
NMCC scored the lone touchdown of the second quarter at 7:59 as sophomore quarterback Leslie Williams rolled out of the pocket and threw a perfect pass on the run to an open Tommy Rowe for a 59-yard touchdown pass. NMCC tacked on two points as Williams scored on a quarterback keeper on the conversion. The Eagles led 15-8 at the half.
Williams was thought to be an option-type quarterback with great speed and instincts, but he showed on Friday night that he can beat you with his arm as well. Williams threw for 126 yards on three completions and a touchdown.
"He can put it in the air if we want to," said Pixley. "He is effective on rollouts and our receivers did a good job of slipping by the defensive backs to get open."
At the outset of the second half, the Tigers gained some momentum as Creekmore hooked up with a diving Rashad Fields in the end zone for a 33-
yard pass play. After the PAT, Caruthersville tied the score at 15.
NMCC took command of the third quarter as Williams and Printice Willis scored on separate 8-yard runs for the Eagles. On the Williams run, NMCC faked the extra point and Williams scored the two-point conversion as he out-ran the Tiger defenders to the corner of the end zone.
The Eagles kicked the extra point after the Willis run and led 30-15 heading into the fourth quarter.
"The turnovers killed us tonight and we got too far behind but our players didn't quit," said Gerling.
Caruthersville did bounce back in the fourth as Creekmore got hot and hit Jason Tate for a 20-yard touchdown reception. The Tigers scored two on a Fields run cutting the Eagles lead to 30-23 with 7:31 left in the game.
The Tigers defense stepped up on the next NMCC possession with 5:00 and held the Eagles on their own 45-yard line.
Laterrance Newsom booted a 41-yard punt under pressure and put Caruthersville back deep in their own territory at 4:31 left in the game.
The Tigers marched down the field and set up the conversion that came up inches short.
Willis had an excellent overall game as he rushed for 73 yards on 15 carries and tied for the Eagles' lead in tackles with nine. In addition, Willis recorded a sack for a loss of 15 yards and intercepted a pass and returned it for 31 yards.
McIntosh led NMCC in rushing with 79 yards and Williams chipped in with 34 yards on 10 carries. Rowe, Newsom and Reggie Cole each had a reception good for 59, 42 and 25 yards, respectively.
For the Tigers, the second leading rusher in the area, Reed, did not disappoint as he carried the football 27 times for 194 yards. Zach Ayers was next in rushing for Caruthersville as he ran for 38 yards.
Creekmore did not start the game for the Tigers as he had some family issues earlier in the week that kept him out of some practices according to Gerling.
Caruthersville went with sophomore Jake VanAusdall who played most of the first quarter and completed two passes for 17 yards and carried the football two times for six yards.
Creekmore did play most of the game starting late in the first quarter and completed nine passes for 126 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception.
Fields had a good day receiving as he caught six passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Tate caught three passes for 60 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers.
Besides Willis' nine tackles for the Eagles, Newsom and Woody Smelser each got nine tackles on the night. Rowe and T.J. Bevly each had eight tackles on the night and McIntosh helped out with seven tackles.
The Eagles D-line played an outstanding game as L.T. Sutton had six tackles and a sack good for a 10-yard loss. Patrick Guest recorded two sacks good for a loss of 12 yards combined.
On the goal line play, Pixley credited Smelser, Guest and Brad Colbert as the run-stuffers who clogged the middle for NMCC.
"The defense worked extremely hard tonight," said Pixley. "We did have some missed coverages but our kids didn't stop working and it paid off."
Aaron Borders led the Tigers in tackling at his linebacker position with 10 tackles on the night. Defensive lineman Joe Mixon had six tackles as Ayers, T. VanAusdall and Mikey Lack contributed five tackles. Fields had an interception for Caruthersville and D-lineman Michael Lewis recorded a sack good for a five yard loss.
Gerling is still optimistic about his team's chances this season.
"We still have the goal of district champs," said Gerling. "But there is no doubt this loss is tough but our kids will bounce back."
Pixley is riding high after the win and thinks his team is in prime position.
"We played a good team tonight and the game could have gone either way," said Pixley. "This was high school football at its best and this puts us in the driver's seat in the SEMO conference. But we are supposed to be at the top of the conference. There is no pressure, we just start from square one every week."
Both NMCC (3-2) and Caruthersville (2-3) are at home next week as the Eagles will entertain the Sikeston Bulldogs and the Tigers welcome Earle, Ark. for their homecoming game. Kickoff in both games are set for 7 p.m.