One of Central's worst nightmares came true Thursday night in the Tigers' home opener at Houck Stadium.
Not only did the Tigers suffer an upset loss to visiting New Madrid County Central 26-20 in overtime, but Central also may have lost quarterback Mitch Craft, who left the game late in the second quarter with an injury. Craft's status was not known immediately after the game.
With Craft out, the Tigers went from a 17-0 halftime lead to an eventual loss.
"The kids played their lights out in the second half," NMCC coach Steve Rogers said.
Right from the opening kickoff of the second half, the Eagles had a new pep in their step. Edgar Givens went 56 yards on the kickoff to put the Eagles on the Central 44-yard line.
From there running back Remond Willis took over. After a couple of first downs, Willis took it in from the 1 to cut the score to 17-6. Willis' touchdown shifted the momentum to the Eagles.
"We felt it," Willis said.
After the Tigers went three and out on Mark Dunaway's first series at quarterback, NMCC went back to work. Quarterback Darrell Newsome made a couple of big plays to lead the Eagles down the field. The drive culminated in a 22-yard touchdown pass to Givens.
With the score at 17-12, the Tigers' offense stepped up. After a facemask penalty and a couple of first downs, Colin Schermann hit a field goal from 38 yards out to put Central up 20-12.
Central's momentum shift was short-lived. Willis took the very next play for an 80-yard touchdown run. Newsome hit Vaughn Sheppard in the endzone for the two-point conversion to tie the score at 20.
"They had momentum, but we also had momentum," Central linebacker Gabe Edwards said. "Really we just missed tackles."
Despite strugging offensively without Craft, the Tigers had a chance to win with 10 seconds left. Schermann missed a 33-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
The Eagles regained the lead with a touchdown on their first possession in overtime, and a Tyrone Reece fumble near the goal line put the game away.
Despite playing the second half without Craft and the fourth quarter without tailback Brandon Twiggs, Edwards said the Tigers should have come away with a victory.
"We can't make excuses," he said. "We could have won it without them."
Willis' strong running made up for three costly first-half fumbles. The senior running back rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries.
"He's a horse," Rogers said. "He knows he's a Division I running back. He's the man."
Central's offense was quiet all night. The Tigers amassed only 198 yards and scored 17 of their 20 points off NMCC turnovers.
"We had to stop them on defense," Willis said. "We had to hold our ground."
Newsome threw for 167 yards on 9-of-14 passing. Givens was the top receiver with three catches for 73 yards.
The Tigers' defense was torched for several big plays. Wilis had two runs of 20 yards or more, and Newsome had seven passes for 20 yards or more.
"It's just execution," Edwards said of the defense. "We just need to learn to execute."
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