Northwest Mississippi Community College’s big-play offense and relentless defense got the best of East Central Community College in its season opener Thursday night.

The Warriors got within two possessions of the Rangers in the fourth quarter and had the chance to get within one with under seven minutes to play from their opponent’s 23-yard line, but running back Marq Qualls was stuffed on fourth-and-2 by a pair of Ranger defensemen, and No. 9 Northwest Mississippi came out on top 26-13.

“They always play great defense,” East Central head coach Ken Karcher said. “We had some good runs, and they made some good stops, unfortunately in key situations, and we couldn’t get more points on the board.” 

The Rangers scored on three back-corner end zone passes thrown by quarterback Jack Walker (9-for-18, 143 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT), two in the first quarter, and a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown by wide receiver Keyon Fordham. 

The Warriors ran a 16-play, 66-yard drive at the end of the first, but were stopped eight yards shy of the goaline and settled for 23-yard field goal by Sam Cox to start the second. Cox also hit one from 42 yards later in the half, and missed one from 42 before halftime, at which Northwest Mississippi (1-0) led 20-6.

East Central (0-1) scored its only touchdown of the evening off a six-yard run by Qualls (12 carries, 56 yards) to cap off a 10-play, 56 yard drive with under 14 minutes left in the game. 

Freshman quarterback Holman Edwards went 22-for-32 for 126 yards, no interceptions, and was sacked once. He threw several screen passes to targets like running back JD Martin (7 rec, 46 yards), wide receiver Depodray Coburn (5 rec, 43 yards) and receiver Jaylen Zachery (6 rec, 21 yards). 

Marq Qualls

East Central Community College's Marq Qualls tries to spin his way up the middle against Northwest Mississippi Community College Thursday night in Decatur.

The Warriors also ran for 128 yards with Qualls, Martin (10 carries, 38 yards) and freshman quarterback Deonte Yarborough (7 carries, 46 yards), who came in for Edwards, who was dealing with a shoulder injury. 

East Central held the ball more than 12 minutes longer than Northwest Mississippi, but fumbled four times and lost possession on three occasions. 

“You have to have good ball security every week, no matter who you play, and if you don’t have good ball security you’re probably not going to win the game because you lost opportunities,” Karcher said. “So we’ve got to clean that up. We can’t put the ball on the ground.”

The Warriors host Itawamba Community College (0-1) next week.

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