JONESBORO -- Jonesboro didn't dominate at the start or at the finish. In between, though, the Hurricane showed it can be the dominant football team it wants to be.
JHS opened the season with a 26-7 thumping of New Madrid County Central, relying on its defense for support as the offense inexplicably struggled Friday night at Cooksey-Johns Field.
The Hurricane (1-0) led just 3-0 at the end of the first half but junior tailback Cowan Hutson, making his return after sitting out the final six games of last year, kick-started JHS with three third-quarter touchdowns to put some breathing room between Jonesboro and NMCC.
The Eagles (0-1) started quickly on offense but an interception by Jonesboro's Josh Kent killed an early scoring opportunity and JHS' defense didn't allow much until the Hurricane was well ahead. NMCC managed just 81 yards offense the first three quarters -- including just 24 during the second and third quarters -- before gaining 90 in the fourth to finish with 171 yards total offense.
Jonesboro's Jim DeVazier, in his fifth year as head coach, said his football team played well but didn't meet his expectations.
"We probably had something going on in the back of our minds," DeVazier said, referring to the 37-0 whipping Jonesboro handed New Madrid to open last season. "We beat them bad and they were coming in here and we were supposed to be decent and we just kind of let them hang around. We're glad to win but I wasn't real impressed with how we did it."
Jonesboro took advantage of four New Madrid turnovers, turning three of them into points. The Hurricane had just two long drives on the night but placekicker Daniel Bell gave JHS a lift with field goals from 43 and 42 yards.
New Madrid County's Remond Willis finished the game with 98 yards on 21 carries to lead the Eagles. Hutson led Jonesboro with 86 yards on 11 carries, including touchdowns on three straight runs that gave the Hurricane a 23-0 lead.
Hutson, who also scored three TDs against NMCC last year in the opener, gave Jonesboro a 9-0 lead with a 4-yard run on a handoff behind the left tackle.
The score was set up by JHS linebacker B.J. Carter, who intercepted New Madrid County quarterback Sherman Newsome on the Eagles' first possession of the second half and returned it 11 yards to the NMCC 12.
New Madrid was set to punt from the Jonesboro 49 on its next possession but a bad snap forced punter Brian Fields to pass the ball and the Eagles failed to pick up the first down. JHS then drove 62 yards on five plays to take a 16-0 lead with Hutson scoring on a 24-yard sweep.
Hutson took the pitch, ran right, then cut up the middle and then cut back to the outside to the left and out-ran the Eagle defense to the end zone.
New Madrid's Bryan Williams fumbled on the Eagles' next play from scrimmage as he was popped by Jonesboro linebacker Michael Johnson and Hutson recovered at the NMCC 10.
Three plays later, JHS quarterback Jim Harris pitched to Hutson on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and Hutson headed to the corner for his third TD of the game.
Harris, who appeared set to run the ball himself into the end zone, was hit by Willis short of the goal line but managed to pitch it to Hutson on a perfectly run option to the left.
DeVazier said Hutson played great in his first game back since a suspension ended his season last year.
"He had a pretty good night under the circumstances," DeVazier said. "We were having a pretty hard time running the ball, getting loose. He ran hard. His second touchdown, the 24-yard run, he really made a good run on that. He broke some tackles and cut back and showed some explosion and acceleration that we haven't had in a while."
After rolling up 473 yards offense against NMCC last year, the Hurricane was held to just 257 in the rematch. JHS earned most of it on the ground, running for 235 yards on the night.
NMCC coach Steve Rogers, who watched his team finish 2-8 last year after finishing as the Missouri Class 3 state runner-up the year before, said his team wore out in the second half and committed too many turnovers that led to easy Jonesboro scores.
"We just can't turn the ball over like we did tonight against Jonesboro, give them the ball inside our 20, and not expect them to score," Rogers said. "I thought defensively, in the first half, we played lights out. It was 3-0 at halftime and then we came right out and turned the ball over. Jonesboro is a good team and they took advantage of our mistakes."
Jonesboro took the ball on the opening possession of the game but was forced to punt without making a first down. The Eagles then drove from their own 32 to the JHS 24 where they faced fourth-and-4.
Newsome lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone but Kent intercepted to turn back the Eagles' only scoring opportunity of the first half.
The Hurricane scored its first points of the season with 3:40 to go in the second quarter after a 13-play drive stalled at the New Madrid County 27.
JHS burned 7:19 off the clock in moving the ball 57 yards and Bell booted a 43-yard field goal through the uprights for a 3-0 lead.
Bell added a 42-yard field goal after Hutson's three TDs, line-driving the ball through on a low kick for a 26-0 lead with 11:10 to play in the game.
"He's got a good strong leg and I think it will get stronger," DeVazier said. "Obviously, he is fairly accurate. We thought he could do that, that's why we gave him a shot and he came through. That was pretty marginal (on his range limit). It was just barely making it over but he has a good luck and when he kicks it, it goes."
New Madrid ended Jonesboro's hopes for a shutout with a late touchdown as backup quarterback Darrel Newsome connected with tight end Edgar Givens for a 34-yard TD on fourth-and-13 with 3:30 to play in the game. Givens slipped between Hutson and free safety Darius Young to make a leaping grab for the TD.
Harris, who led Jonesboro in rushing last year, was held to just 19 yards on eight carries. He was 4-of-8 passing for 22 yards.