TAHLEQUAH – It was a battle of field position at Doc Wadley Stadium on Saturday, and Northeastern State not only won the battle but prevailed in the war.
The RiverHawks improved to 3-6 overall, 3-6 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, with a 45-21 win over Lincoln (Mo.) for their third straight win.
On the afternoon, the RiverHawks’ average start of a possession was their own 42-yard line while Lincoln averaged starting at its own 23.
“Field possession is how you win football games,” said NSU coach Kenny Evans. “We’ve done a better job in the second half of the season in the kicking game. For the most part, we made them go the length of the field and in turn gave us good field position.”
NSU won the coin toss and wasted little time in getting on the board. Joel Rockmore received the opening kickoff and brought it out to 47-yard line and the RiverHawks took five plays and 2:02 to go the final 53 yards and it was Johnny Deaton to Tahlequah ex Chucky Bryant for 10 yards to put the RiverHawks up 7-0.
“Overall, our blocking was real good,” Rockmore said. “With the way we have been running the ball the last few weeks, it has opened up the passing game. Chucky and Jehmai Coleman had great games.”
After each team traded punts, the Blue Tigers (1-9, 1-9 MIAA) took over at NSU’s 49 and used 11 plays to score, culminating with quarterback Jacob Morris running in the final nine yards to even the score at 7-7 with 4:04 remaining in the first.
The next time NSU began a drive near midfield, it scored again to regain the lead. The RiverHawks started at Lincoln’s 49 and ended the drive when Deaton hit Bryant for a 4-yard TD pass to make it 14-7.
“We knew exactly what they were going to do on defense,” Deaton said. “Since our break, everyone’s had their mind set and everyone has been playing well.”
The lead didn’t last long as the Blue Tigers put together an 82-yard scoring march, highlighted by a 75-yard catch and run by Morris Henderson, that ended with a six-yard run by Morris to even the score at 14-14 with 9:10 left in the first half.
Just as fast as Lincoln tied the score, Northeastern State took the lead again and it took the RiverHawks four plays to do so. Bryant began the drive by taking a handoff at his own 31 and raced 64 yards on an end around to the Lincoln 5. Deaton capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge to give NSU the lead for good at 21-14 with 7:41 remaining in the stanza.
The RiverHawks would score twice more in the half, one on a 46-yard blast by Terrance Dixon with 5:41 left and a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the half by Drew Patton to give NSU a 31-14 lead heading into the locker room.
“This was a great day to end our home season,” Bryant said. “(Lincoln) wasn’t being very physical off the line. The first two scores they were focusing on someone else and the third one I just got lucky.”
The first two times the RiverHawks touched the ball in the third quarter resulted in touchdowns and in effect put the game away. Deaton and Bryant connected for the third time on a 9-yard strike with 8:17 left and Dixon popped off a 15-yard scamper with 1:32 remaining to put NSU up 45-14.
Dixon led the RiverHawks in rushing with 103 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns. Deaton finished 9 of 17 for 146 yards and three scoring strikes, all to Bryant who hauled in four passes on the day for 43 yards while Coleman was the leading receiver with two catches for 65 yards.
“I think we prepared well,” Evans said. “Our guys have been excited ever since we got on this winning roll. Next week is Central Oklahoma and we want to bring back the President’s Cup.”
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