POPLARVILLE – Sophomore linebacker Sam Small had a breakout night recording 14 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, two sacks and a forced fumble and visiting 22nd-ranked Northwest took advantage of two muffed punts deep in Pearl River
territory to earn a season-opening, 27-17 upset win over the 13th-ranked Wildcats Thursday night at Dobie Holden Stadium.
The win over Pearl River marked the Rangers’ first since 1997 and snapped a 6-game losing streak to the Wildcats after being outscored by almost two touchdowns a game during that stretch.
“Beating a team like Pearl River on the road, or Gulf Coast like we did last year, really helps our program,” third-year head coach Ricky Woods said. “If you can beat those guys on the road, you can beat anybody.”
The Wildcats were backed by a strong home crowd of close to 1,000 and jumped on the board just five minutes in when Melvin German connected with Darrion Gabriel from 39 yards out. The pass capped off an impressive 8-play, 86-yard drive and gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead, scoring off a 3rd-and-19.
The Ranger defense, however, would turn up the volume the rest of the evening and make things difficult for German, who was sacked a total of six times on the night and finished with minus-44 yards rushing. The freshman did have a great night through the air, going 33-for-47 with 352 yards passing.
As the Ranger defense cranked up, the offense also found its rhythm, scoring 20 unanswered points after the Wildcats’ early score to take a 20-7 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Kevin Buford knocked home a 26-yard field goal for the Rangers’ first score of the year before Calvin Malone’s 1-yard run gave Northwest its first lead of the night, 10-7.
Freshman QB Brent Osborn, who finished 18-for-30 on the night with 213 yards passing, connected on a 3-yard touchdown strike to Xavier Lee to stretch the lead to 17-7 before Buford banged in another field goal from 27-yards out.
“Brent had probably the best performance by a freshman that we’ve had,” Woods said. “He managed the game well, played mistake-free football and overall did a great job.”
Back-to-back Pearl River scores in a span of 2:31, including a 23-yard field goal and 9-yard TD pass from German, quickly cut the Northwest lead to 20-17 heading into the fourth.
A 36-yard return from Jay Jones on the ensuing kickoff setup the Rangers at their own 45-yard line, and Northwest proceeded to drive the final 55 yards over a 3:11 span to stretch it back out to a two-possession ballgame.
The teams traded drives the final 12:41 and the Rangers were able to milk the clock on the Pearl River 4-yard line to cap off a great 27-17, season-opening win on the road.
Northwest will be back in action next Thursday, Sept. 9, playing host to East Central in its 2010 home-opener. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. from Bobby Franklin Stadium.