December 5, 2015
The No 15 East Central Community College Warriors turned three first quarter turnovers into points to build an early lead and set the pace in a 35-21 victory today over the No. 20 Kilgore College Rangers in the 2015 C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl.
The game was played in the 10,000-seat Bulldawg Stadium in Copperas Cove, Texas.
East Central turned an interception and two fumbles into touchdowns in the first quarter to race to a 21-0 lead.
Sophomore safety Jaylon Lofton played a big part in the first two scores. The Forest High School product stopped Kilgore’s first drive of the game with an interception in the end zone.
The Warrior offense took over from there and marched 80 yards in 13 plays, with freshman running back Tredarian Gamble giving East Central a 7-0 lead on a 15-yard scoring run.
Two plays later, on Kilgore’s second offensive possession, Lofton picked up a Ranger fumble and rambled 15 yards to the end zone. With 6:15 remaining in the first quarter, East Central led 14-0.
On its ensuing possession, Kilgore again drove deep into Warrior territory to the three-yard line before losing another fumble. This one was scooped up by Warrior safety Austin Balthazor (Seminary High School) who raced 90 yards down the left sideline for East Central’s third touchdown of the first quarter. Austin Garrett’s (Meridian High School) third point after made the score 21-0.
Balthazor was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. He also had six tackles to go with the fumble return for a touchdown.
The Rangers finally got on the scoreboard with 4:12 remaining in the first half on a 32-yard scamper by Martinez Syria, Kilgore’s leading rusher and scorer on the season.
East Central took a 21-7 lead into the locker room.
The two teams would combine for 28 points in the third quarter.
East Central took just four plays to score to open the second half scoring. Quarterback Jesse Hosket found wide receiver Devin McIntosh of Amory High School in the corner of the Rangers’ end zone from 15 yards out to stretch the Warriors lead to 28-7 lead. The drive began with a 44-yard pass from Hosket to Henri Murphy to the Rangers’ 12-yard line. Murphy is a freshman out of Dollarway High School in Pine Bluff, Ark.
Kilgore closed the gap to 28-14 on a 20-yard toss from quarterback Josh Bolfing to tight end Jarod Wood on a second and goal play with 6:34 left in the third.
East Central answered with a 38-yard strike from Hosket to wide receiver Kabion Ento, who went high above two Kilgore defenders to pull the ball down for the score and the 35-14 lead. Ento also hails from Dollarway High School.
Bolfing would connect with Wood again on the Rangers next drive from nine-yards out to finish the third quarter scoring and pull Kilgore to within 35-21.
Neither team was able to score in the fourth quarter.
Hosket, a product of French Camp Academy, finished with 150 yards passing and two touchdowns. Gamble, out of Oxford High School (Ala.), finished with 127 yards and one touchdown. Murphy had four catches for 68 yards. Freshman defensive back Isiah Thomas out of Madison Central High School also had an interception for the Warriors.
East Central finished the 2015 season with an 8-3 record, the best won-loss record since 1999. The Warriors advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state playoffs, before losing to eventual state champion Northwest Mississippi Community College 27-20 on Oct. 31 in Senatobia. It was the Warriors first appearance in the state playoffs since 2001.
The HOT Bowl was East Central’s first bowl game since 1996, and only the fourth bowl game since the Warriors began playing football in 1928. Only 14 community college football teams in the nation were invited to bowl games this year.
Kilgore finished the season with a 7-5 record. The Rangers were Southwest Junior College Football Conference Champions. Kilgore, which has participated in three previous HOT Bowls, is a two-time national champion.
The C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl was founded in 2001 by Dr. Jack Welch and a group of local businessmen looking for a way to help others while stimulating the local economy. The day features a bowl game between two top ranked community college teams and a second game against top ranked NCAA Division II teams.
The Heart of Texas Bowl is sponsored by C.H.A.M.P.S., Communities Helping Americans Mature Progress and Succeed, a school-based program aimed at educating students about the dangers of the abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol.