By Shawn Wansley, Jones College Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – The second season has arrived for MACJC football.
The 6th-ranked Jones College Bobcats, the South Division champion, will host the No. 5 Northwest Rangers, the North Division runnerup, in an MACJC semifinal matchup at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field.
The game will air on www.jcjc.tv and the Jones College Facebook Live page with Mark Easley and Luke Johnson on the call.
Bobcat head coach Steve Buckley points to on-the-field results to show the quality of play fans should expect to see on Saturday.
“You look at both teams and we are 16-2 the last two years in the regular season and they are 17-1,” he said Tuesday morning. “So, I think you have a great matchup this week.”
More numbers indicate a close game this week.
Jones averages 35.9 points per game and the Rangers average 32.7 points per game. Jones allows 17.9 points per game and Northwest allows 16.2 points per game.
The Bobcats finished regular season play at 8-1 overall, 6-0 in the division after whipping East Central, 45-20, last week.
Jones led 45-0 early in the third quarter before the Warriors closed the gap.
Buckley was pleased with the way the Bobcats started, but now how they finished.
“It’s been the story all year,” he said. “We are not a young team anymore and that’s the frustrating part. We can play so well in the first half and then we don’t play well in the second half. I don’t think we lose focus in the second half.
“The challenge we gave them Friday (day after last week’s game) in the team meeting and again yesterday (Monday) was we’ve got to play four quarters of football. It’s time the rubber meets the road. We’ve got to get ready to play four quarters because I think that’s the difference between winning and losing this week.”
Running back Kalyn Grandberry (Memphis, Tennessee) rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown last week. Grandberry has 1,145 yards on the season, which is second in the NJCAA, and he is averaging 127.2 yards per game, which is fifth nationally.
Jones got a 52-yard fumble recovery return for a touchdown by linebacker Davis Harrison (Lamar School). Wide receiver Nataurean Watts (Petal) returned a blocked punt 5 yards for a touchdown and also had a 73-yard touchdown reception and defensive back Lakevias Daniel (Louisville) got a scoop and score from 8 yards out when the ECCC punter mishandled the snap on a punt. Jones also had an 18-yard run for a first down by punter Greg Hayden (Vicksburg) on a fake punt.
Buckley was happy with the play of the special teams, which has been a strong point all year long for Jones.
“We work hard at it and it’s not as complicated as it may look,” he said. “We have kids who take pride in special teams and they believe in what we are doing. We make it easy and we make It fun and the kids execute it most of the time.
“One thing we try to instill early on in camp is that special teams play is just as important as offense and defense. All three phases are equal and I think the kids understand that.”
On defense, end Chei Hill (Miami, Florida) had his usual stellar game with 7 tackles and 4 tackles for loss.
Hill leads the nation in TFLs with 29 and is tied for seventh in sacks with 10.
Linebacker Nick Anderson (Vicksburg) had 4 tackles and 1 TFL and linebacker Daylen Gill (Louisville) had 4 tackles, 2 TFLs and a forced fumble. Safety Jonathan Haynes (Ray Brooks) had 3 tackles and a pass interception, cornerback Jamar Richardson (Aliceville, Alabama) had 3 tackles and an interception and ends Marquez Bembry (Atlanta, Georgia) and Lamarcus Keyes (West Jones) each had 3 tackles and a TFL. Gabe Rogers (Jackson Callaway) had a pass interception and Harrison added an interception in addition to his fumble recovery.
On offense, the Bobcats got the big lead, but did not do much after that.
Buckley pointed to three turnovers as being a negative.
“We had two plays in the third quarter,” he said. “Kalyn had the fumble and Phat had the 73-yard touchdown pass. The main thing is we’ve got to eliminate the dumb plays. We can’t lay the ball on the ground. We had two picks and we just don’t have to do that. We have to take care of the ball and stay in front of the chains.
“If we don’t do anything else offensively, I’m fine as a head coach with just staying in front of the chains, taking care of the ball and punting if we have to. That’s fine with me.”
The Rangers, 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the North, will provide a strong challenge for the Bobcats.
Northwest is led by head coach Benjy Parker, who was an assistant at Jones in 1998-99. He was on the Bobcat staff when Jones went 12-0 in 1998. He is in his third year as head coach of the Rangers.
“Benjy is a friend of mine and does a great job there,” he said. “Northwest is an excellent football team. History proves that and the tape this year proves it, too. They’ve been behind in some games and they have found a way to come back and win. To me, that’s the sign of a good football team. They were down to Coahoma in the fourth quarter and to East Central in the fourth quarter and found a way to come back and get it done in the end.
“They are conditioned to winning.”
On offense, Northwest is led by quarterback Jacob Free, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound transfer from Vanderbilt. He has thrown for 1,788 yards and 10 touchdowns. Top running backs are Chris Calvert, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound freshman from West Point, and Jaxton Carson, a 5-foot-7, 220-pound transfer from Kennesaw State. Top wideouts are Braden Smith, a 6-foot, 180-pound transfer from Mississippi State, and Monterio Hunt, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound transfer from Marshall University.
Buckley is impressed with the Rangers’ offense.
“On offense, they do a lot of run/pass option stuff,” he said. “Their quarterback has a big arm and has made some plays with his legs in the last few games. You can’t go to sleep on him being just a pocket guy because he has run the ball some.
“They can run it and throw it. At times, you may think they are relying on explosive plays, but they will then grind you down running the football. They are big and strong up front.”
On defense, Northwest has several standouts.
Cornerback Brandin Echols, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound defensive back from Southaven, has six interceptions and 12 pass breakups on the year. Defensive back Jerrick Reed II, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound freshman from Olive Branch, leads the team in tackles with 66 and has two interceptions. Linebacker Brandon Pierce, a 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore from Horn Lake, has 65 tackles, 8 TFLs and 3 sacks. Robert Miller, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound redshirt sophomore transfer from Memphis, has 58 tackles, 4.5 TFLs and 2 sacks.
Buckley said the Rangers are not fancy on defense, but are solid.
“Scheme-wise, they are very sound,” he said. “They are not overly complicated, but they play hard and play well. Echols at cornerback is very good. Their defensive line is aggressive and big and their linebackers are very active.”
Buckley said the keys to success in the postseason are the same as they are in the regular season – do not turn the ball over and play smart.
“We just need to keep it in front of the chains offensively and take care of the ball,” he said. “On defense, we just need to do what we do. On special teams, just don’t mess it up. That’s my speech to the team every week. If that sounds redundant, I guess it is. Football is not complicated.
“I think so many times you get in the playoffs and you try to complicate things. We are not going to change who we are. I know Benjy is not going to change what they do.”
The weather forecast is excellent for Saturday’s game.
Buckley expects a large crowd to be on hand to watch a matchup between two of the nation’s top six teams with both rosters featuring a great deal of senior college talent.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and a fun football game,” he said. “Our kids are very excited. It should be a beautiful day for football with 70 degrees and sunny skies so what more could you ask for on a fall day?
“It will be a fun challenge for us this week.”
The Jones/Northwest winner will meet the winner of the game between No. 16 Copiah-Lincoln at No. 1 East Mississippi for the MACJC championship on Nov. 10.
If the Bobcats win over Northwest, then they will host the state championship game.
Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field
No. 5 Northwest (8-1) at No. 6 Jones (8-1), 2 p.m.
Admission:$10 general admission. $7 students. Jones students admitted free with proper ID. MACJC passes accepted.
Webcast: Game airs on www.jcjc.tvand the Jones College Facebook Live page.
NORTHWEST (8-1, 5-1)
W, East Central, 28-24
W, Southwest, 51-6
W, Mississippi Delta, 59-16
W, Copiah-Lincoln, 23-14
W, Holmes, 27-24
L, East Mississippi, 6-34
W, Coahoma, 35-24
W, Northeast, 31-7
W, Itawamba, 34-7
JONES COLLEGE (8-1, 6-0)
W, Coahoma, 44-0
L, Holmes, 23-25
W, Hinds, 28-25
W, Mississippi Gulf Coast, 16-13
W, Southwest, 51-21
W, Pearl River, 48-7
W, Northeast, 40-27
W, Copiah-Lincoln, 28-23
W, East Central, 45-20