Going home is always a special event, but it meant a little something extra for Northwest Mississippi Community College freshman placekicker Kevin Buford.
Buford’s 43-yard field goal in overtime lifted Northwest to a 25-22 victory over the Mississippi Delta Trojans Oct. 1 at Jim Randall Stadium in Moorhead.
Buford, who grew up 35 miles down the road in Greenville and graduated from Washington High School, kept the Rangers’ playoff hopes alive in front of several family members who made the short drive to witness his heroics firsthand.
“I knew I hit it pretty good,” said Buford of his game-winning kick. “I am just glad my teammates gave me a chance and my coaches believed in me.”
Buford also nailed a career-long 50-yard field goal in the first quarter and averaged 43.8 yards on eight punts.
Northwest, which is ranked No. 20 in this week’s NJCAA poll, is still in the hunt for a berth in the post-season. The Rangers improved to 4-2 overall and are remain tied for second place in the MACJC north division with a 2-1 mark.
Buford almost didn’t get the chance to be the hero. Mississippi Delta got the initial possession in overtime, but on the Trojans’ first play, Northwest cornerback Bud Barksdale of Batesville intercepted a pass in the back of the end zone and returned it 98 yards to the Mississippi Delta two-yard line before running out of gas.
The Rangers failed to move the ball on three consecutive plays on the their overtime possession, but Buford saved the day with his clutch kick.
Mississippi Delta had an opportunity to grab the lead with just over a minute left in regulation, but Northwest blocked the Trojans’ 39-yard field goal attempt.
“It was a sloppy win, but we will take it,” said Northwest Head Coach Ricky Woods. “We have to do a better job of protecting the football. There’s no excuse for not taking care of the ball the way we did tonight.”
Woods was talking about the Rangers’ seven turnovers that Mississippi Delta used to keep the game close. Northwest, which entered the contest with just 10 turnovers, lost five fumbles and tossed two interceptions against the Trojans.
All those miscues didn’t take the shine off the performance of Ranger sophomore receiver Michael Lindsey of St. Petersburg, Fla. Lindsey tortured the Trojan secondary with nine receptions for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Lindsey’s 234 yards were the second-most ever by a Northwest receiver. Eric Smith had 269 for the Rangers in 1992.
Buford’s 50-yard goal and the first of Lindsey’s three touchdown catches, a 73-yarder from quarterback Casey Weston of Prattville, Ala., gave Northwest a 9-0 lead after the first quarter.
Mississippi Delta responded with a pair of touchdowns passes from quarterback Jacob Land. Land hooked up with Labrodrick Barnett on a 26-yarder and tossed a 41-yard strike to Michael Tanner to put the Trojans ahead 14-9.
The Rangers countered just before the half with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Weston to Lindsey to claim a 15-14 advantage.
The last of Lindsey’s trio of touchdown catches was perhaps his finest. Lindsey got behind a Mississippi Delta defensive back and made a one-handed catch with his fingertips while running full speed on a pass that almost everyone thought was surely beyond his reach.
Lindsey hauled in the catch and sprinted 46 yards for the score.
it seemed as though every time Northwest got some momentum, a turnover would take it away. The Rangers fumbled the ball on their next possession and Trojan defensive end Charles Ramsey scooped up the loose ball and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown with 13:09 left. Mississippi Delta tied the game at 22-22 with a two-point conversion.
“Our defense kept us in the ball game tonight,” added Woods. “Last week (against East Mississippi) it was the offense that kept us in it. If we can put it all together in one game, we have a chance to be a great football team.”
The Rangers host the Coahoma Tigers Thursday, Oct. 8 at Bobby Franklin Field in Senatobia. Kick off is set for 6:30 p.m.