Sparked by the two touchdowns and the running of James Smith III, the East Central Community College Warriors held on to defeat the Southwest Mississippi Bears 28-21 in the home football opener Thursday, Sept.13, in Bailey Stadium in Decatur.
Smith out of Velma Jackson High School in Camden rushed for 138 yards and one score and raced 62 yards with a screen pass for another touchdown to power the East Central offense.
The Warriors held a 28-14 lead with less than two minutes to go in the game and had to survive a Southwest touchdown and a fumbled kickoff in the waning seconds for the MACJC South Division win.
With the win, the Warriors are off to their best start since the 2015 season when East Central made the state playoffs for the first time in 14 years and played in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl.
East Central is now 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in MACJC South Division play. Southwest dropped to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the league.
It was Be Our Guest night in Bailey Stadium as hundreds of area high school students were in attendance as guests of East Central.
After both teams opened the game with two punts each, the Bears got on the scoreboard first with a five-yard touchdown run from Zarious Keyes late in the first quarter. The Warriors answered almost immediately. On the second play of its ensuing drive, quarterback Brady Anderson (Brandon) hit Smith with a screen pass and he raced 62 yards for the score. The PAT was no good, and Southwest led 7-6.
East Central took the lead for good in the second quarter on a seven-play, 64-yard drive that ended with quarterback Mario Asagunla (Hillcrest Christian, Jackson) sneaking in from the one. Freshman running back JohnTavis McClelland (Lamar School, Meridian) carried for the two-point conversion and the Warriors led 14-7. The running of Smith and a 14-yard pass from Asagunla to freshman tight end Jamarvis Echols (North Panola) were keys in the drive.
The Warriors extended their lead to 21-7 with 5:56 to go in the first half on a four-yard run by Smith. Sam Cox (Starkville Academy) kicked the extra point. The two-play drive began on the Southwest 21 after a low snap and partial block on a Bear punt attempt.
East Central missed two other scoring opportunities in the first half when the offense was unable to convert on a fourth and one from the Southwest five-yard line and a fourth down on the Bear 29.
The Warrior defense forced seven Southwest punts in the first half and forced a couple of fumbles.
Running the spread option offense, the Bears took the second half kickoff and consumed nearly 10 minutes of the clock on a drive that ended on the Warrior 26 and a missed 43-yard field goal attempt.
The Bears would find the end zone however on the first play of the fourth quarter on a three-yard run by quarterback Da'Byran Magee. The PAT was no good and the Warriors led 21-13.
The Warriors answered on their next drive when Asagunla hit Echols from 13 yards out for the score and the 28-13 lead. It was Asagunla's seventh touchdown pass in the first three games.
Southwest would make the game interesting with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Magee to Ladarrious Williams with 1:17 to play. The two-point conversion made the score 28-21. The Warriors fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Bears one final opportunity with a first down and 10 at the East Central 24. The Warrior defense would prevail as freshman linebacker Payton Rogers (Forest) batted a pass away on fourth and 12 with 18 seconds to play.
Linebacker Kendrick Abney (Sylva Bay Academy, Heidelberg) had a second half interception for the Warriors.
East Central will go on the road again next Thursday for the third time in four games. The Warriors will face the Pearl River Wildcats in Dobie Holden Stadium in Poplarville. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
The game can be heard on WKOZ Cruisin 98.3 or via audio stream and live stream video at www.eccc.edu/eccc-media.