Tigers thwart Chicks 20-19

Saturday, September 15, 2001

BLYTHEVILLE, Ark. -- A strong second half and a late defensive stop allowed Cape Girardeau Central to avoid an upset Friday night as the Tigers first rallied and then held on for a 20-19 victory over the host Blytheville (Ark.) Chickasaws.

Central, which improved to 2-1, overcame a 13-6 halftime deficit and dropped the Chicks to 0-3.

But the Tigers, after scoring 14 second-half points to go up 20-13, had to sweat out the final, frantic moments. With 0.2 seconds left on the clock, Blytheville quarterback Jim McMiller hit Cedric Johnson with a 12-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Chicks to within a point.

Blytheville then elected to go for the win on a 2-point conversion, but McMiller was stopped by a host of Central tacklers short of the end zone.

"They ran a mid-line option and I think Darren Neels and a couple of guys got it," said Central coach Lawrence Brookins. "It was a good win. It was a tough week for everyone, but it was good to get out, play and get our minds on something else."

Jay Ruark opened the game at quarterback for the Tigers after normal starter Mitch Craft was benched for disciplinary reasons because he left some of his equipment back in Cape Girardeau.

Ruark promptly led the Tigers on a solid drive on the night's opening possession, completing all three of his pass attempts. After things stalled, Chris Jones came on an booted a 41-yard field goal with 7:47 left in the first quarter.

Central had two turnovers -- an interception and fumble -- on its next two possessions, the final miscue leading to a 46-yard Blytheville touchdown drive. Andrew Harris scored on a 6-yard run to put the Chicks up 7-3 with 11:38 remaining in the second period.

The Tigers were forced to punt on their next possession, but Blytheville fumbled and the Tigers recovered at the Chicks' 16. Central stalled, however, and Jones booted his second field goal of the game, a 29-yarder that made it 7-6 with 7:38 left before halftime.

Blytheville came back and drove 80 yards, with Harris scoring on a 24-yard run. The extra point failed, but the Chicks led 13-6 with 6:01 left in the half. That's the way things stood at the intermission.

Central finished the first half with just 86 total yards, including 52 through the air. Ruark, who played the entire first half, completed six of 12 passes, with two interceptions.

But the Tigers' offense got going in the second half. Craft came out at quarterback for the first time after Central's defense had held on Blytheville's opening possession. The Tigers proceeded to march 96 yards, scoring on a Monroe Hicks 18-yard run with 2:37 left in the third quarter. Jones' PAT tied the contest at 13-13.

The Tigers had a chance to take the lead a short time later as Hicks intercepted his third pass of the season, at the Blytheville 45. After Central moved to the 10, the drive stalled and a 32-yard field-goal attempt by Jones was blocked.

But after Central's defense continued to shine in the second half, the Tigers' offense took over in good field position after a punt and drove 50 yards for the eventual winning score. Marcus Klund's 15-yard scamper pushed the ball to inside the 1, from where Craft went over on a keeper with 5:44 remaining in the game. Jones' PAT made it 20-13.

Hicks rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries and he also caught five passes for 61 yards to lead the Tigers offensively. Klund added 78 yards on 14 carries and he also intercepted a pass. Craft, who played the entire second half at quarterback, completed three of five passes for 40 yards.

Central finished the game with 176 yards rushing and 268 total yards.

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