In an abnormal year, to an abnormal season, leading up to an abnormal week that saw Laurel and Natchez move their contest to a Thursday night, the Tornadoes fought through weather adversity and a slow start to defeat the Bulldogs 57-38 behind Xavier Evans’ five touchdowns in the second half of the contest.
“It is what you expect from him [Xavier Evans]. To be quite honest, he is one of the ones I challenged at halftime. He has to play great for us to be great,” said Earnest. “He is one of the best football players in the state of Mississippi, in my opinion. When he plays like he did tonight, we have a chance to win every ballgame we play. He is a great kid with a great work ethic and he turned it on in the second half. Those are the kind of performances that he is capable of.”
It was a tale of two starts as Laurel started slow, while Natchez started red hot, scoring on their second drive when Kyreek Murray found Mike Williams for a passing touchdown with 5:12 in the quarter. A two-point conversion put the Bulldogs up 8-0.
After a Laurel fumble, Murray connected with EJ Bates for a nine-yard touchdown pass with 2:33 left in the quarter to go up 14-0. Their two-point try was no good.
Laurel responded in the second quarter as Kanarius Johnson hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass to put the Tornadoes on the board, 14-8 after a two-point conversion.
Another Natchez passing touchdown, this time to Trevon Henry gave Natchez a double-digit lead again, 22-8 after a successful two-point conversion.
Laurel, however, engineered a late-half drive, scoring on the final play of the half as Scott connected with Dayton Cooley for a 32-yard touchdown pass to bring the Tornadoes within eight, 22-14. Their two-point conversion attempt was no good.
“It was a huge way to end the half. Dayton is a kid who has worked his butt off and he has come a long way. He is a kid we count on now. That was a big play because it got us started. I know the touchdowns in the second half will get a lot of attention, but if we don’t get that touchdown at the end of the first half, then it is a two-score game coming out of the half. It was a big play,” said Earnest.
Laurel and Evans rolled in the second half, scoring on their first four drives out of the locker room, with all four touchdowns coming by way of Evans on the ground. His first run came from 10-yards out, then a Jeremy Porter interception set the Tornado offense up on their drive that was capped off with a one-yard touchdown run. Evans’ next two runs were long ones, with one coming from 50+ yards out and another from 37-yards out.
During Laurel’s four-straight touchdown drive in the third quarter, Natchez scored on a halfback pass from Trevon Henry to Murray for a score. Still, at the end of the third quarter, Laurel led 43-30.
The Bulldogs’ lone score in the fourth quarter came on an 84-yard pass that was tipped by two Tornado defenders into Williams’ hands for the score to make it a five-point game 43-38, however, a Dexter Scott quarterback keeper from two yards out and a 55-yard touchdown run from Evans sealed the victory for Laurel.
“I didn’t think the intensity was what it needed to be in the first half, but we challenged them at halftime. We told them we had to play like the team we were capable of being, and we did that. The scoreboard shows that,” said Earnest.
Laurel grabs their second win of the season and an all-important region win. They will now prepare for a homestand against West Jones next Friday night. Natchez will square off against Forest Hill next week.