The Eagles pounced on five of six Caruthersville fumbles, converting three into scores, in a 27-14 victory over their SEMO Conference Central Division rivals.
"That was the difference in the ballgame," said NMCC coach Arlen Pixley. "We've done a good job of creating turnovers in earlier games, but we haven't done a good job of recovering them. We did that tonight."
But it may have been a staunch effort by the NMCC defense that was the true difference maker, as the Eagles were not without ball security issues themselves, fumbling six times, losing three.
The Eagle defense, anchored by tremendous line play, kept the Tigers in check as they held prolific all-state running back Kendrickus Reed under 100 yards at 91, limited the Tigers' bread-and-butter running game to only 97 total yards and 180 yards of total offense and recorded three quarterback sacks.
The two teams exchanged fumbles on their opening possessions of the evening, then the Eagles' Corey Rowe stripped a Caruthersville receiver on the visitors' second possession, setting up NMCC at the Tiger 45.
Four plays later, Marquese Gates, who led the Eagles with 87 rushing yards, dashed in from 41 yards out to send the Eagles up 6-0. Gates' touchdown came one play after freshman running back Lennies McFerren's 36-yard TD run had been called back on a holding penalty.
Following a third Tiger fumble at their own 40, the Eagles went four-and-out, leading to Reed's 44-yard burst to even the score at 6-6 with 2:08 remaining in the first quarter. Caruthersville froze the NMCC defense with a direct snap to Reed, the deep back, who lined up next to the quarterback in shotgun formation.
Penalty wiped out another golden opportunity for the Eagles. A low, driving punt was mishandled and recovered at the Tiger 3, but a personal foul call negated the play and brought the ball all the way back to the Eagle 31.
A second punt was blown dead at the Tiger 20. On the first play from scrimmage, Eagle linebacker Michael Brown snatched a fourth Caruthersville fumble out of midair and rumbled into the end zone, carrying Tigers along the way.
NMCC took the 13-6 lead in at halftime, a score that stood through the third period.
At the beginning of the third quarter, quarterback Leslie Williams, who sat out the first half, came on in relief of freshman Dontre Jenkins.
"Dontre did a good job," said Pixley. "He was just off the mark on a couple of passes but he kept us in a good rhythm."
On Williams' third series at the controls, he led the Eagles on a 73-yard, fourth-quarter drive to paydirt, capped by his 24-yard TD run for a 19-6 edge. Williams' 2-point conversion pass to Tommy Rowe upped the lead to 21-6.
The Eagles, again receiving a Tiger gift, literally put the game out of reach with 9:25 left in the fourth period.
A bad snap sailed over the head of the Tiger punter, setting the Eagles up at the Tiger 11. On the ensuing play, Williams hit Rowe in the flat where he used his elusiveness and speed to juke a couple of Tiger defenders to score for a 27-6 advantage.
Caruthersville rode the impetus of back-to-back Eagle personal foul penalties to finish a 75-yard drive, capped by Reed's 1-yard dive, which narrowed the margin to 27-14 with 5:41 left.
On the Tigers' final possession of the ballgame, Eagle defensive tackle L.T. Sutton teed off with two huge sacks of 8 and 12 yards to offset any positive yardage gains.
Pixley, whose Eagles improved to 4-1 and took over sole possession of the Central Division lead at 2-0, said, "Our guys tackled exceptionally well tonight. I was very pleased with that. I also think we won the time-of-
possession battle. They were in second-and-long and third-and-long all night."
On the other sideline, Caruthersville's Gerling was left with more questions than answers.
"It's time for us to have a gut check," he said. "We've got to come together as a team and, basically, make a decision that we're going to work day-in and day-out to accomplish the goals that we set at the beginning of the year."
NMCC visits winless Sikeston on Friday.