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Central holds off Poplar Bluff for 35-14 victory
POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Central seemed on its heels in the third quarter.
The Tigers' 15-point halftime lead was down to a touchdown, and Poplar Bluff was driving.
But an interception by Jacob Campbell led to a touchdown three plays later, and the Central defense also made two red-zone stops for a 35-14 SEMO North Conference win.
"Huge," Central coach Nathan Norman said. "Our defense did a tremendous job. I'm proud of them."
Chris Martin ran for 179 yards, including touchdown runs of 10, 20 and 88 yards, to lead the Tigers (2-1, 1-0 SEMO).
Poplar Bluff (2-1, 0-1) took advantage of two Central turnovers, but the Mules couldn't cash in on another one early in the fourth quarter when trailing by 14.
"Just kind of ran out of gas there," Mules coach Mark Barousse said. "I think we lost a lot of steam there when we didn't score to tie it up."
Down by 14 in the fourth quarter, Poplar Bluff's T.J. Boner recovered a fumble at the Central 8-yard line. The Mules, however, went backward by fumbling the snap, getting hit for a loss on second down and Jacob Boerboom's sack on fourth down. A halfback pass to the end zone on third down fell incomplete over the diving receiver.
Three plays later, Keneen Abraham broke off a 45-yard touchdown run to set the final score.
"That was the ballgame," Norman said. "That was huge."
Central's Garan Evans also intercepted a pass at his own 8-yard line and the Tigers ran out the final 4 minutes, 32 seconds.
Before that, Central struggled to hold onto the ball on a dry Saturday afternoon after the teams waited in the locker room for nearly two hours in a lightning delay Friday night. The Tigers fumbled seven times, losing three, including on their opening drive.
"You win by 21 points with seven fumbles and three turnovers, we'll take that," Norman said.
Poplar Bluff took advantage of the good field position, marching 36 yards to score the game's first points with 7:11 left in the first quarter.
First, the Mules had to overcome a fourth-and-4 with a play by Alex Lewis, who took the snap and ran up the middle. Senior quarter Kortez Ellis then avoided a sack and scrambled 20 yards. Cornelius Timothy then ran 4 yards for the score. A botched snap cost the Mules on the extra-point attempt.
Central answered on its next drive, marching 54 yards on nine plays to take the lead.
Martin took an option toss to the left side on third-and-9 for a 10-yard touchdown run. Calvin Lovig's extra point put the Tigers ahead for good 7-6 with 3:24 left in the first quarter.
"They've got too much speed to make mistakes," Barousse said. "We had a few guys just not play assignment football."
Central stopped Poplar Bluff's next drive, which was extended with a fake punt, and the Tigers needed just five plays for a 67-yard scoring drive. Junior quarterback Dennis Vinson hit Evans for a 34-yard pass, and Martin scored on a 20-yard run with 9:44 left in the half for a 14-6 lead.
Poplar Bluff punter Darius Sales later pinned the Tigers at their own 14, and Central faced a third-and-12 when Martin took a handoff. The senior found a seam to the left sideline for an 88-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers up 21-6 with 4:50 left in the half.
"Chris is fast and stronger than he looks," Norman said. "He's explosive and strong. If he gets past the first layer, it's over."
Central's opening drive of the second half reached the Mules' 20-yard line, but a fumble was recovered by Poplar Bluff's Daniel Francisco.
That seemed to spark the Mules, who marched 81 yards in five plays. Kimbrayl Miller made a juggling catch over the middle for a 54-yard score. Ellis then hit Drew Dowd with the two-point conversion pass that cut Central's lead to 21-14.
Poplar Bluff then forced a punt, and moved near midfield on an 18-yard pass to Collin Jones. On third-and-5 from the Central 48, Ellis' pass was tipped and Campbell came away with it and returned it 26 yards.
Central turned another third-and-12 into a score when Vinson hit Evans for a 44-yard touchdown pass with 2:03 left in the third quarter to go up 28-14.
"When you have your chances, you've got to make plays," Barousse said. "We just didn't do it."
Vinson completed 5 of 7 passes for 108 yards, while Abraham ran for 73 yards on four carries. The Tigers produced 400 yards of offense to Poplar Bluff's 273.
The Mules were led in rushing by Ellis with 45 yards. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 151 yards.
Central 35, Poplar Bluff 14
PB -- Timothy 4 run (pass fail), 7:11.
C -- Martin 10 run (Lovig kick), 3:24.
C -- Martin 20 run (Lovig kick), 9:44.
C -- Martin 88 run (Lovig kick), 4:50.
PB -- Miller 54 pass from Ellis (Dowd pass from Ellis), 7:32.
C -- Evans 44 pass from Vinson (Lovig kick), 2:03.
C -- Abraham 45 run (Lovig kick), 8:04.
RUSHING -- Poplar Bluff, Ellis 15-45. Timothy 13-25. Nguyen 4-22. Lewis 4-9. Pulliam 1-4. Boner 1-0. Team 1-(-5). Central, Martin 12-179. Abraham 4-73. Campbell 8-32. Owens 2-5. Jone 4-10. Davis-Carter 2-2. Vinson 2-(-3). Team 6-(-6).
PASSING -- Poplar Bluff, Ellis 8-17-2 151. Lewis 1-2-0 22. Pulliam 0-1-0 0. Central, Vinson 5-7-0 108.
RECEIVING -- Poplar Bluff, C.Jones 5-57. Miller 1-54. Dowd 2-26. T.Francisco 1-14. Central, Evans 2-40. Boerboom 1-39. Thompson 2-29.