November 6, 2016

The East Central Community College Warriors took a two touchdown lead into the locker room at halftime, but could not hold on as the No. 4 nationally ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College Rangers stormed back for a 21-14 win in a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College state semifinal football game played Saturday, Nov. 5, in Bailey Stadium in Decatur.

With the win, Northwest advanced to the MACJC State Championship at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba on Saturday, Nov. 12. 

East Central, champions of the MACJC South Division, finished its season 5-5 overall. It was the first time in 40 years that the Warriors had made the state playoffs in consecutive seasons. Northwest, the defending National Junior College Athletic Association national champion, improved to 9-1.

East Central jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead thanks to the legs and arm of sophomore quarterback Dominic Marino. The Sarasota, Fla., product ran for a seven-yard score in the first quarter and then tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Antonio Gibson out of McDonough, Ga., in the second quarter. Two PATs from the leg of sophomore kicker Aaron Garrett of Meridian put the Warriors up by two scores heading into the locker room.

The Rangers drove into East Central territory four times in the first half and came away with no points each time. East Central forced and recovered a Ranger fumble on the 19-yard line, twice held Northwest on fourth down, and then stopped a fake field goal attempt.

The second half was all Northwest. The Rangers finally got on the scoreboard with 9:06 to play in the third on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Clay Holgorsen to Marquisian Chapman. The PAT was no good. The Rangers needed to convert a fourth and 15 from the Warrior 32 to keep the drive alive.

After a Warrior punt, the Rangers drove 58 yards for another score, this time on a four-yard run by Tywun Walters. The try for two was no good, but the Warrior lead had been cut to 14-12 with 5:57 to play in the third quarter.

Northwest scored on its third straight possession of the second half when Drake McCarter hit a 35-yard field goal to give the Rangers their first lead of the game at 15-14 with 14:28 to play.

On East Central’s next drive, Marino was intercepted by Northwest’s Fred Garth Jr. who returned it 42 years to the Warrior 20. Three plays later, McCarter hit a 28-yard field goal to push the Ranger lead to 18-14 with 11:02 to play.

McCarter kicked his third field goal of the second half with 4:13 to play in the game, this time from 42 yards, for the final 21-14 margin.

The East Central offense was held in check the second half managing only eight total yards of offense and no first downs, after nine first downs and 187 first-half yards. The Warriors six second-half possessions included four punts and two interceptions.

For East Central, Marino managed 109 yards rushing and one touchdown. He was 5 of 14 through the air for 63 yards and one score. Sophomore defensive back Nick Nichols of Morton led the Warrior defense with 12 total tackles.

The two teams met just a little over two weeks ago on Oct. 20 in Senatobia with Northwest winning 20-14. East Central and Northwest also met in the MACJC semifinals last season with the Rangers winning 27-20 in a game also played in Senatobia.

East Central Community College quarterback Dominic Marino rolls into the end zone in the first quarter to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead over Northwest. (EC Photo)