ELLISVILLE – Six weeks ago, no one was talking about postseason play for Jones College.
The Bobcats had dropped an 18-10 decision at Coahoma in the season opener. Three weeks later, Jones fell 20-14 at Mississippi Gulf Coast.
But since that point, the Bobcats have come roaring back with five consecutive victories.
After last week’s 35-13 win over East Central, Jones finished in sole possession of second place in the MACJC South Division and earned a playoff berth.
The 7th-ranked Bobcats will visit North Division top seed Northwest, ranked No. 10, at 2 p.m. Saturday in an MACJC semifinal contest. The game will air on JCJC.TV with Mark Easley and Chuck Robertson on the call. Live stats will be available for the game at https://nwccrangers.com/sidearmstats/football/summary.
Head coach Steve Buckley is proud of the way his team has responded since the midway point of the season.
“We dug ourselves a hole early in the year when we started out 2-2,” he said. “It shows the resolve of our football team. They fought back and kept digging and digging and digging their way out of it. There was nobody who was going to rescue you and there was no room for error.
“To win five in a row was huge down the stretch. The league has so much parity this year and you have to get ready to play every week. I thought our team did that. They responded to adversity and hopefully that will help us in the playoffs because there will be adversity in the playoffs.”
The Rangers enter the game at 7-2.
Northwest was rated No. 2 in the country going into their final regular season game last week vs. Itawamba, but the Indians posted a 22-21 upset victory. That put the North into a four-way tie for first place with Northwest, Itawamba, East Mississippi and Holmes all at 4-2.
But the Rangers came out as the top seed because of the tiebreaker rules.
Buckley has plenty of respect for Northwest 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 fourth year as head coach of the Rangers.
“You look at Northwest and they were No. 2 in the country for a reason,” Buckley said. “Coach Parker and his staff do a great job with X’s and O’s and recruiting and developing players. You look at what they have done over the last five or six years and every time you look at the national polls, they are in the top five or top 10 and rightfully so.”
Jones hosted Northwest last year in the MACJC semifinals and posted a 36-34 victory.
This year, Northwest is led on offense by quarterback Jack Walker, a transfer from Georgia State. Walker (6-3, 230) played at Madison Central and has passed for 1,876 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Running backs Jaquerrious Williams, Chris Calvert and Urriah Shephard pace the ground attack. Braden Smith, Cameron Wynn, Mack Martin III and Jacoby Jones are the top receivers. Smith is a Louisville commit.
“They have explosive receivers and the quarterback is very talented,” Buckley said. “They have three tailbacks that are all good and they are big and physical up front. It will be a challenge for our defense.”
On defense, the Rangers are led by linebacker Quentin Wilfawn, linemen Tyren Irby and Robert Hentz II and backs Christian Cain and Cam White. Irby has committed to Oklahoma State and Hentz has committed to Kansas State.
“Defensively, they probably have the best front four we’ve played all year,” Buckley said. “All of them have Division I offers and have committed to Division I schools right now. I believe two of them are Power 5 guys. The back end is solid and their linebackers are active.
“They are a good football team and we have to be ready to play.”
Last week, Jones jumped out to an early 14-0 lead over East Central. Starting running back Kalyn Grandberry (Memphis, Tennessee) was injured in the second quarter. ECCC cut the lead to 14-7 at halftime.
Ladamian Webb (Opelika, Alabama) had an injured ankle and was not scheduled to play. But he entered the game in the third quarter and helped spark Jones to the win. Grandberry had 82 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns in the first half and Webb finished with 102 yards on 10 attempts and one score in the second half. Jones had 268 yards rushing.
Quarterback Fred Barnum (Warren Central) was 12-of-22 for 129 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Bud Tolbert (Water Valley) had four catches for 52 yards and wide receiver Manny Jones (Amory) had five catches for 29 yards and a touchdown and also added a 33-yard punt return to set up another score.
“We were down in numbers with injuries last week,” Buckley said. “We needed all hands on deck. We had no intention in playing a couple of them and we really wish we did not have to, but we did. Kalyn got dinged up and Ladamian told us at halftime he could go. I think he was probably about 75 percent. Obviously, it was a tremendous lift for us just to be able to run the ball because I thought East Central was a good football team.”
Defensively, the Bobcats limited ECCC to 260 yards and 11 first downs.
Linebacker Mike Cockream (Ray Brooks) and lineman Zach Causey (Madison Central) each had seven tackles and half tackle for loss. Linebacker Kenderian Dixon (Yazoo County) had six tackles and half TFL and back Rakeim Ashford (Choctaw County) had six tackles. Linebacker Daylen Gill (Louisville) had six tackles, a half TFL and a pass interception return of 25 yards. Linebacker Johnny Magee (Oak Grove) had three tackles, one TFL and Jones' only sack. The Bobcats ended the game with seven TFLs.
Jones is now allowing 10.4 points per game, which tops the MACJC and ranks second nationally.
Buckley was pleased with the defense, but noted ECCC scored on an 81-yard run.
“They had an 81-yard explosive run and you can’t do that,” he said. “They had a 15-play drive right before the half where they converted three third and longs and we had a defensive pass interference call. We have to get off the field.
“But you have to credit our defense because we bend a lot, but we don’t break.”
Even though it will be nine days between games for the Bobcats, Buckley says Jones still has several players who are banged up and will be questionable right up until kickoff.
“We will several players that will be gametime decisions,” he said. “We’ve said all week that we will need all hands on deck. Will we have that? We will have them dressed out, but we just don’t know.”
Buckley said the keys to success are the same this week as they are for any game.
“We have to keep it in front of the chains and take care of the ball offensively,” he said. “Defensively, we have to eliminate explosive plays. We find a way to give up one or two a game and we have to quit that. It’s just gap responsibility on defense.”
In Saturday’s other semifinal game, No. 13 East Mississippi goes to No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast in a 7 p.m. start.
The two winners this weekend will meet Nov. 9 for the MACJC championship.