North Pontotoc had nothing to lose.
The Vikings, the No. 4 seed from Division 1-4A, entered their regular season finale at Corinth Friday as decisive underdogs but spooked the Warriors early on and never let up, pulling off a last-second 49-46 win at Warrior Stadium II on Halloween-Eve to improve to 6-3 on the season heading into a first round MHSAA playoff road game next Friday.
Corinth, which wrapped up the division title last week by winning at Ripley, receives a first round bye next Friday and will wait to discover their second round opponent and location after being tricked the night before Halloween.
It was North Pontotoc earning a huge treat as they shocked not only Warrior-Nation but most football fans around north Mississippi with the upset road victory.
The mysterious part is how the Vikings handled the Warriors lines as they did. It was disparaging for CHS fans to watch as their defending state champions were manhandled much of the night where the big boys line up.
“I can’t honestly say why we lost in both boxes like we did tonight,” said Corinth head coach Todd Lowery. “As a team we simply came out flat and I was definitely disappointed in our effort as a whole.”
The Warriors had first shot at scoring but fumbled on the second play from scrimmage with North Pontotoc recovering the pigskin at the 46. It took the Vikings only two plays to score as senior running back Raquan Booth found a huge hole up the middle and took it 50 yards for the touchdown to hand NPHS a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game.
To their credit Corinth responded on the ensuing drive, covering 67 yards in nine plays with Cayden Betts scoring from the one. Eli Burciaga’s PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
After trading punts with the Warriors, the Vikings exploded for their second big play of the game as quarterback Reece Kentner threw an 84-yard TD pass to wideout Tyler Hill late in the first period. With the point after kick it was 14-7 North Pontotoc.
“We practiced hard all week on defending number 4, number 5 and number six (Kentner, Booth and Hill),” said Lowery. “We knew they were fast and could play but we just couldn’t stop them tonight.”
The Tribe scored next on a play that could have gone bad as Nazarius Jones fumbled after a 22-yard gain to the Vikings 39. But Braxton Curlee was Johhny-on-the-spot, recovering the fumble and scoring from 41 yards out with 42 second remaining in the first quarter. However, the first sign that things might get a bit ‘spooky’ for Corinth came next as Burciaga slipped on the PAT attempt and missed the kick low, leaving the score 14-13 North Pontotoc.
That missed extra point would haunt the Warriors the rest of the night as they would not only leave a missed extra point kick on the field, but also missed on three 2-point conversions.
That seven points left on the field cost the Warriors the game.
The Vikings would go up 21-13 on a six-yard run by Booth at the 8:55 mark of the second quarter before Corinth answered with a 64-yard scoring hookup from quarterback Brawner Cregeen to Naz Jones less than a minute later. The first failed 2-point try allowed North Pontotoc to maintain a 21-19 lead.
Warrior senior defensive back Matthew Inman intercepted Kentner on the ensuing drive and CHS took their first lead of the game when Chris Rodgers scored on three-yard run 1:47 before intermission.
That left just enough time for the Vikings to score again, this time on a three-yard run by Booth following a 34-yard pitch-and-catch from Kentner to Hill making it 28-27 Vikings at the break. Corinth aided NPHS in the drive with a 15-yard personal foul penalty around midfield.
After North Pontotoc and Corinth exchanged punts to begin the second half the Vikings scored on yet another big play, this time on a 90-yard burst up the gut by Booth, who finished the contest with 207 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Just more than a minute later Corinth made it 35-33 when Cregeen found a wide open Curlee for a 47-yard TD. Once again the Tribe failed on the two-point conversion.
North Pontotoc would add to their lead with 9:46 remaining in the game when Kentner found Kaden Wilson for a 77-yard scoring strike to make it 42-33. Back came Corinth as Jones scored again, this time from three yards away. Burciaga added the PAT to cut the lead to 42-40.
The Warriors seemed to take back some control as they managed their second, and last, lead of the game on another three-yard run by Jones—his third TD of the game. Cregeen was sacked on the conversion attempt leaving the score 46-42.
That left the door open for the Vikings dramatic last second antics as they took control at the CHS 24 after a 48-yard kickoff return by Wilson.
Following two straight incompletions and a delay of game penalty, North Pontotoc faced 4th-and-12 at the 17 with 16 seconds left. Kentner eluded two Corinth defenders and found Wilson for a 17-yard touchdown with 10 seconds remaining for a 49-46 lead.
The Warriors had two opportunities to win in the closing seconds but both of Cregeen’s passes landed on the turf in the end zone after falling incomplete.
North Pontotoc out-gained Corinth 634-434 with Jones leading the Warriors with 93 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Betts, whom the Vikings keyed on the entire night, managed 87 yards on 23 carries with a pair of scores on the ground. Cregeen finished 9-19 for 129 yards and two TD’s.
“(North Pontotoc) Coach (Andy) Crotwell had his team motivated and ready to play tonight,” Lowery said in conclusion. “The way we played tonight is not what we expected and was not up to our standards here at Corinth. Their (Vikings) offensive line was their strength and they beat us in the box all night. We will work hard during our bye week to get back to Corinth Warrior football and show up ready for our first playoff game in two weeks.
The Warriors are 6-3 heading into the postseason as they seek to defend their 4A state championship.