(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- The New Madrid County Central Eagles came within a touchdown of knotting the game at 20 points apiece in the third quarter.
It started with a fumble recovery by linebacker Shermon Taylor, followed by a long drive that ended with Zach Rucker punching it in from five yards out giving the Eagles the momentum they needed to possibly come back.
The ensuing kickoff, however, signified how the Caruthersville Tigers were able to answer every play NMCC made with an even bigger one on Friday night.
Caruthersville senior Peter Lloyd ran back an 85-yard kickoff return, dodging and breaking tackles along the way, putting the dagger in the Eagles as the Tigers rolled to a 41-14 win over NMCC.
"We're still in it. It's time to play ball," NMCC senior running back Jamareia Jones remembers after his Eagles pulled to within six points. "But then, they came out with the return and that let us down once again."
NMCC (1-4) began the game with a fire lit under them as they scored the first touchdown of the game on a 9-yard pass to Lemonte Nelson, who set up the play with an interception, from G'Darius Stevenson with over five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
It was their second try from the goal line after the Tigers' defense held strong on NMCC's first attempt with a turnover on downs at the seven yard line.
With the Eagles holding a 6-0 advantage, it didn't take the Tigers long to answer.
In just three plays following Stevenson's touchdown pass, Caruthersville quarterback Perry Middleton found David Shaw just in the nick of time for an 82-yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 7-6 lead.
Middleton was on the run towards the sideline with NMCC defenders hot on his trail. Shaw himself was covered down field, but the perfect pass was complimented by a perfect catch to once again, answer the Eagles when needed.
"The thing about Perry, sometimes he gets a little antsy," Caruthersville head coach Nathan Morgan said about the play. "This time it was for a good reason. He throws better on the run. His skill set showed tonight. He got a little pressure and put that ball on the money.
"With the catch from (Shaw), that was tough cause he had a guy draped all over him," added Morgan. "He just made a big play. He's known for that. Him and (Middleton) connect on a lot of pass plays like that."
Middleton would continue to find his receivers, completing two on their next series. One of which was an 8-yard strike to Lennon Smith putting the Tigers in front, 14-6 with 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Middleton ended the night with three touchdown passes, the other being a 42-yard pass to Shaw in the fourth quarter. The senior quarterback threw for 149 yards on five completions.
"Offense wasn't clicking at the start of the first quarter, but once we started cleaning things up and hanging tough, we started figuring things out and playing ball together," said Morgan.
Even after a 7-yard interception return by Caruthersville's Graham Gardner to open the second quarter, NMCC found themselves down by a manageable 14 points at the end of the first half.
Taylor's fumble recovery and Rucker's 5-yard scamper proved it was still a game however. Rucker's score was helped by the change of position for Stevenson. The usual quarterback for the Eagles, Stevenson moved to the running back position giving the senior a more downhill approach gaining 26 yards in just four touches and putting the ball at the 11-yard line in the process.
"It takes some of the pressure off those guys on the outside," NMCC head coach Arlen Pixley said. "Everyone's staring at the guy in the backfield. But, (Stevenson's) not a one-man show here. We have to have other guys step up and make some plays."
Lloyd's deflating kickoff return happened shortly after.
"We came out the half, drive it right down and pulled it right back in to one score," Pixley said about the 20-14 score. "I'd been saying all week long, 'Don't kick it to (Lloyd), don't kick it to No. 14.' I think our kicker was actually aiming left it just shot off to the right side of his foot.
"Bottom line, we had a bunch of guys miss a lot of tackles on that play."
"We've got the best return man in the state, in my opinion," Morgan said. "I don't care what class we're talking, he's it. (Lloyd) answered. He answered their momentum with ours and sucked the life right out of this place."
Vohland Fonda, who finished with 72 yards rushing on 11 carries for Caruthersville, capped off the Tigers' scoring with a 9-yard run with 9:16 left in the fourth quarter.
"The first quarter, I thought we played really well," said Pixley. "The second half we just laid down. Things didn't go our way and we put our nose down. Champions don't do that. These kids have to get back to work and we have to rebound."
Stevenson led the Eagles with 127 yards on the ground but was kept out of the end zone. Jones finished with 26 yards while Lemonte Nelson gained 35 yards on just five touches.
This is NMCC's worst start since 2004, where they also began the season 1-4 and finished with a 1-9 record.
"We look pretty good in practice, Jones said about the season so far. "We get out here in front of the crowd, we just let down. We just can't put together all the pieces right now."
N -- Lemonte Nelson 9 pass from G'Darius Stevenson (kick blocked); 5:09
C -- David Shaw 82 pass from Perry Middleton (Vohland Fonda kick); 3:39
C -- Lennon Smith 8 pass from Middleton (V. Fonda kick); 0:46
C -- Graham Gardner 7 interception return (kick failed); 11:54
N -- Zach Rucker 5 run (Stevenson run); 1:05
C -- Peter Lloyd 85 kickoff return (V. Fonda kick); 0:47
C -- David Shaw 42 pass from Middleton (V. Fonda kick); 11:36
C -- Vohland Fonda 9 run (V. Fonda kick); 9:16
Caruthersville -- Vohland Fonda 11-72, Elbie Fonda 7-42, Peter Lloyd 3-18, David Shaw 1-1, Perry Middleton 4-0, T. J. Hopkins 4-17, Stanley Smith 1-3, Jamal Johnson 1-(-3) NMCC -- G'Darius Stevenson 25-127, Jamareia Jones 15-26, Zach Rucker 4-(-6), Lemonte Nelson 5-35, Jayshawn McDaniel 1-1, Damonddre Wilson 2-4.
Caruthersville -- Perry Middleton 5-13-1 149. NMCC -- G'Darius Stevenson 4-12-2 28, Zach Rucker 0-1-0 0.
Caruthersville -- David Shaw 3-135, Lennon Smith 2-14. NMCC -- Lemonte Nelson 3-25, Xavier McFerren 1-3.