What a difference a week makes. Just seven days removed from laying the football on the turf four times in a season-opening loss, the East Central Warriors played 60 minutes of turnover-free football and capitalized on big plays on both sides of the football in a 34-14 win over the Itawamba Indians Thursday, Sept. 5, in Bailey Stadium in Decatur.
The Warriors lost three fumbles in a sluggish season-opening 26-13 loss to then No. 14 Northwest. Instead, East Central was the team that played nearly mistake free against Itawamba and took advantage of two interceptions and a bobbled punt in getting its first win of the season.
With the win, the Warriors improved to 1-1 on the season, while the Indians fell to 0-2.
The football game saw a little bit of everything. Freshman running back JD Martin lining up at quarterback and ripping off big plays, big 288-pound sophomore defensive tackle Alvin Dempsey rumbling 74 yards with an interception, a fourth quarter drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock, and another solid kicking game by the Warriors.
After a slow first quarter that saw each team punt three times, East Central got on the scoreboard twice in the second quarter. Martin (Wetumpka, Ala.) lined up at quarterback and called his own number racing 69 yards for the score, breaking several tackles on the way and capping a three-play drive.
The Warriors also found the end zone on their next possession, again needing just three plays as freshman quarterback Holman Edwards (French Camp Academy) hit a wide open freshman tight end Joshua Pedyfoot (Vicksburg) for a 34-yard score.
Freshman kicking specialist Robens Beauplan (Lehigh Acres, Fla., Riverdale) was good on both point after attempts and East Central led 14-0 at intermission.
East Central extended its lead to 17-0 early in the third quarter on a Beauplan 30-yard field goal. A bobbled Itawamba punt recovered by sophomore linebacker Payton Rogers (Forest) gave the Warriors the ball on the Indian 21.
On the ensuing kickoff, Itawamba began a 12-play drive that put the Indians on the East Central nine-yard line. That's when Dempsey (Port St. Joe, Fla.) picked off an Itawamba pass and rumbled 74 yards before being caught from behind on the 19-yard line. Two plays later, a six-yard shuffle pass from Edwards to sophomore tight end Ray Thomas (Senatobia) gave East Central a 24-0 lead in the third quarter.
Following Itawamba's first score of the game late in the third quarter, Beauplan connected on his second field goal of the game on the second play of the fourth quarter, this time from 32 yards.
Leading 27-7 with 12:34 to play, East Central's Desmond Williams (Forsythe, Ga., Mary Person) intercepted an Itawamba pass and the Warriors took over on their own 14. Relying solely on the running game, East Central put together a 13-play drive that took nearly nine minutes off the fourth quarter clock and ended with a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore Marq Qualls (Lake). With 3:52 to play, East Central had extended its lead to 34-7.
Itawamba found the end zone a second time on a three-yard run with just over a minute to play in the game.
For the game, East Central rushed for 235 yards, including 149 from Martin mostly from the wildcat position, and 64 yards from Qualls. Defensively, freshman cornerback Jaeden Webb (Northwest Rankin) led the way with eight tackles, while freshman nose guard Joshua Ratcliff (Belle Rose, La., Assumption) recorded a pair of sacks.
Beauplan had another strong outing kicking the football. In addition to hitting two field goals and four extra points, he also punted seven times for a 41-yard average.
East Central ventures into MACJC South Division play next week when the Warriors go on the road for the first time this season. The opponent will be the Southwest Bears. Kickoff from John I. Hurst Football Stadium in Summit is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12.
All home and away football action this season can be heard on WKOZ "Cruisin" 98.3 radio or at www.eccc.edu/eccc-media. Live stream video of all home games as well as links to the live stream of road opponents can be found at www.eccc.edu/eccc-media.