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Rangers rally past East Central to advance to MACJC title game

SENATOBIA — Down 11 in the first half in Saturday’s MACJC football semifinal game against 17th-ranked East Central, No. 2 Northwest Mississippi Community College outscored the Warriors 24-6 down the stretch and held them to just 67 yards in the second half to grind out a 27-20 win and advance to the championship game.

It’s been quite a turnaround for Jack Wright and the Rangers, inheriting a 1-8 program in 2013 on three years probation by the MACJC, and two years later, starting off 9-1 and ranked second in the NJCAA with four Top 20 wins.

NWCC snapped an eight-game losing streak in the state playoffs and will play in its first MACJC Championship game since 1999 – the same year of their last conference championship. East Central ended a great season at 7-3.

It was East Central, however, who got out to a fast start on Saturday, jumping out to a 14-3 lead.

After NWCC had to settle for a Jim Speights 23-yard field goal on its opening drive, the Warriors drove 58 yards in 14 plays, capped off by Jesse Hosket’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Thomas, to make it 7-3.

The Warriors went right back to work on their second possession, feeding Tredarian Gamble and Mikell Daniels, who took it down to the 1-yard line before Gamble punched it in for a 14-3 lead.

NWCC caught a break just before halftime to pull within 14-10 at the break, with Hosket mishandling a snap and fumbling it at the ECCC 20-yard line. Six plays later, Gardner Minshew hit Marquisian Chapman for a 5-yard touchdown with 3 seconds left on the clock.

NWCC’s defense was the difference in the second half, forcing four straight East Central punts and blocking a field goal to keep the Warriors off the board.

Minshew and the Rangers scored 17 straight to pull ahead 20-14 with 7:06 left in the third quarter, with the freshman hitting Jacob McCrary for a 41-yard score and Speights connecting on a record-breaking 28-yard field goal.