MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

November 17, 2013

RiverHawks hold on to beat UCO, Evans relieved of duties as coach

TAHLEQUAH – It’s been a season where nothing could be taken for granted for Northeastern State.

Not a lead, not a lineup card and now, not even coaching jobs.

So with UCO breathing down the RiverHawks’ necks late in the game, rallying from a 38-17 deficit to a touchdown with 6:03 to play, Thor Long took matters into his hands.

Dropping back to pass, he saw an opening in the middle of the Bronchos’ defense and embarked on an 85-yard run, knocked out of bounds by free safety Rakim Dawkins at the 1. Two plays later, he scored from that point for a 45-31 advantage with 4:47 to play.

The RiverHawks still had to recover an onside kick after T.J. Eckert’s third TD pass of the game to seal what was a 45-38 win and a fourth straight President’s Cup victory in the season finale for both teams Saturday at Doc Wadley Stadium.

Long, the third NSU quarterback to see action this year, ended up with 108 yards rushing on 11 carries and was 14-of-21 for 161 yards and two touchdowns as NSU finished 2-9 overall, 2-8 in MIAA play.

“It was a smash route and it just opened up with a linebacker in the middle. I had to make him miss and the guys did a great job of blocking down field.

“I was pretty tired,” he added, noting he “hadn’t ran that far on a play since his pee-wee days.”

The RiverHawks took advantage of five interceptions off the arm of Eckert (33-of-50, 385 yards), getting a touchdown drive and field goal off those. They also held UCO (2-8, 2-8) to 60 yards on the ground after the opening 15 minutes.

Linebacker Langston Jones had a pair and defensive backs Darrain Winston, Chandler Barr and Muskogee free safety Kyler Harris had one each. Harris’ came at the NSU 7 with 2:47 to play that too, seemed to wrap it up.

But that wouldn’t have been in synch with a season that has seen 11 players not projected as starters end up there and another brutal run in the league that prides itself on being the SEC of Division II.

“It’s hard to describe. It’s a relief if you want to know the truth,” NSU coach Kenny Evans said about the year coming to an end, and apparently his tenure.

About an hour after the game, NSU issued a statement announcing an “emergency press conference” for 2:30 today regarding the football situation. Evans later said in a text message to the Phoenix that he was let go “with no reason given.”

Evans said he had no clue a decision was forthcoming.

“It caught me completely off guard,” he said. “It’s hard to enjoy a win.”

Without Evans, who finished his sixth season with a 22-44 overall mark, NSU will go into the offseason with 34 returning freshmen – including redshirt freshmen – that he says will limit his scholarships to a small infusion of some transfers and junior college players.

Harris, a redshirt sophomore who enjoyed a healthy season for a change (a tibia cyst got him a medical redshirt last year), acknowledged his disappointment on the season’s outcome.

“God has a plan for us. Injuries gave a lot of young guys an opportunity and we’ll go get ready for next year,” he said.

The RiverHawks trailed only once. Bronchos running back Joshua Birmingham’s 61-yard run gave his team a 7-0 lead as UCO wound up with 106 rushing yards in the quarter against a team that had given up a school record 2,677 yards on the ground through 10 games.

NSU would answer on Long’s first TD pass, a 1-yard flip to Nick Whitlow, then its defense stepped up on a fourth-and-1 at the RiverHawks 22. Jones, with a lineman falling on him, reached out with one arm and tripped Birmingham for a loss of 4.

Cory Meadors, spelling Long on the next drive, capped a 16-play, 74-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard toss to Marco Renteria in the corner of the end zone. The drive tied the longest TD drive in terms of plays this season for the RiverHawks.

Seth Hiddink’s 27-yard field goal got UCO to within 14-10, but Long came back with a 71-yard drive, capping it with a 19-yard TD pass to Cruz Williams. Drew Patton then nailed a 50-yard field goal with :25 left on the clock until halftime.

Eckert found Hood for a 6-yard TD pass on the opening drive of the second half to make it a 24-17 game, a margin that would be equaled twice but not reduced more than that.

Running back Terrance Dixon led all rushers with 141 yards on 17 carries, coming up eight yards short of a career-best game.

Wagoner grad Prince McJunkins teamed with Fort Gibson ex Lane Dortch on a two-point conversion following Long’s first rushing touchdown that made it a 32-17 game with 3:27 left in the third quarter.

Another Fort Gibson grad, Jake Gandara, had just one carry in a backup role for the Bronchos, gaining three yards.

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