The Mules scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth as Poplar Bluff took advantage of two costly Eagle turnovers in the quarter and converted them into 14 points.
The momentum-shifting turnover came with Poplar Bluff leading 10-7 with nine minutes to go in the game. NMCC quarterback Leslie Williams dropped back on his own 12-yard line for an attempted pass.
Williams' right arm went forward but unfortunately for Eagle fans, the football went backwards. The ball harmlessly slipped out of the hand of Williams and the Mules recovered the football to set up a touchdown five plays later.
"We had a lot of miscues tonight that were costly," said NMCC head coach Arlen Pixley. "It is tough to prepare for the way Poplar Bluff plays and we didn't prepare the way I would like before a game. I thought our kids got a little complacent during this week of practice."
The Eagles had a decent first half gaining 172 total yards but in the second half, the Eagles only produced 81 total yards.
"We can't play defense all the time and expect to win," said Pixley. "I thought our passing game would produce more for us tonight. We got a kid who can really throw the football but at times he (Williams) needs to understand when to take something off the football and put a little more touch on it."
First year Poplar Bluff head coach Brian Robbins was pleased with the effort of his squad after giving up 42 points last week in a loss.
"I have some great kids and they are a joy to coach," said Robbins. "In the locker room at the half, we just challenged our kids to step up and take control of the game. We didn't make any adjustments on defense, our boys just stepped up. It has been a rough couple of weeks but our kids have really been practicing well and they played the second half like they have been in practice. It was nice to see a total team effort out on the field tonight."
With 7.6 seconds left in the first half, Poplar Bluff finally got on the board after a 46-yard pass from Mules quarterback Asa Wyatt to wide out Tim Stonecipher. The clock was stopped with only .5 seconds left in the half as Stonecipher got out of bounds.
Poplar Bluff lined up for a 21-yard field goal that was nailed by Wyatt as time expired in the half.
"We had a safety play too tight to the line of scrimmage but that could have been corrected if not for an excellent pass and catch on the play," said Pixley. "Our kid had good defense on the receiver and had a hand in his face. It was just a great catch."
The Mules got going in the fourth quarter on the strength of Wyatt's legs. A season removed from leading the area in passing yards, Wyatt has adjusted to an option offense installed by Robbins.
Poplar Bluff took the lead early in the fourth after a 66-yard drive that featured the running of Wyatt. Of the 66 yards, Wyatt ran for 51 and capped off the drive with a quarterback keeper off right tackle for a 28-yard touchdown run to give the Mules a 10-6 lead.
"Wyatt managed the game well tonight," said Robbins. "He is a very smart athlete who can be very explosive at times. After we got the lead, we just ate the clock with solid drives and the kids performed well."
Wyatt finished with 66 yards on 11 carries and completed three passes for 89 yards. Wyatt was also effective on defense for the Mules and tallied seven tackles.
"Wyatt is just a gamer," said Pixley. "He is so hard to defend because he can beat you through the air and now on the ground. The kid can flat out play the game."
Pixley acknowledged that his team was far from 100 percent before the game began.
"Our linebackers were a bit hobbled up at the start," said Pixley. "We missed a lot of tackles on defense, and in that fourth quarter they just wore us down. Poplar Bluff is a quality team and Coach Robbins has a nice system he is trying to get going over there. We just turned the ball over too much and they capitalized at the right time in the game."
The Mules were led in rushing by Jimmy Dye who had 21 carries for 77 yards including a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter to put Poplar Bluff up 17-6.
The final score for the Mules was on a 5-yard run by Nick Stith who has also had to adjust to a new offense after leading the area in receiving yards last season. Stith had 19 yards on three carries.
Williams led the Eagles on the ground with 98 yards on 13 carries, however he was limited to just six yards rushing in the second half.
Gates finished with 17 carries for 60 yards.
The defensive line for the Eagles carried the tackling load as Michael Brown, Woody Smelser and L.T. Sutton did yeoman's work. Brown and Smelser each had nine tackles while Sutton chipped in with eight.
Poplar Bluff (1-2) will remain on the road next Friday night as they will invade Charles Bland Stadium for a rivalry game with the Dexter Bearcats (2-1) at 7 p.m.
NMCC (2-1) travels to Charleston on Friday for a matchup with the Bluejays (2-0) at 7 p.m.