A high-flying first quarter resulted in 21 quick points from No. 4 Northwest, as the Rangers soared past the Eagles, 56-21, in Saturday's MACCC Championship bout at Bobby Franklin Field.
Northwest earned its second consecutive MACCC title with the victory, repeating as conference champions for the first time since 1991-92. This is now the 11th conference title for the Rangers and the third since 2015.
After the Rangers' defense stifled the first Hinds possession, Northwest needed only one play to reach the end zone, as quarterback Michael Hiers connected with D.T. Sheffield on a 72-yard touchdown reception.
With the Eagles forced to punt once again on the ensuing possession, the Rangers drove 81 yards on three plays to tack on a 14-0 advantage, thanks to an 11-yard touchdown run from Jamarien Bracey.
BeSean McCray and the Hinds offense began to click on the Eagles' third possession, marching all the way to the Rangers' 26-yard line and knocking on the door of the red zone. Opting to go for it on fourth down, Hinds bobbled the snap and Kylan Robinson delivered the hit, resulting in an eight-yard loss and a turnover on downs midway through the first quarter.
Nothing Hinds did seemed to slow the Northwest offense in the first half, as the Rangers once again took a short possession downfield, finishing a four-play, 66-yard drive with a 46-yard connection from Hiers to Sheffield. Eli Hamlin followed with his third successful point-after attempt, further widening the gap to 21-0.
Hinds finally made its way on the scoreboard with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, capping off a 12-play, 81-yard drive with a five-yard score from Jamarian Samuels. The score did little to dampen the Rangers' offense however, as Hiers led Northwest on an 87-yard drive that carried over into the second quarter and ended on a short quarterback keeper, pushing the lead to 28-7.
A big 76-yard pass from McCray to Jaiden Burns, Sr. helped get the Eagles going early in the second quarter, as Hinds scored one play later on a short touchdown from Jeffery Pittman and trimmed the deficit back to two touchdowns.
Like they had done on every offensive possession before, the Rangers once again marched downfield to the Hinds' 15-yard line with eight minutes left in the first half. Facing fourth and short, Northwest appeared to be content with a field goal attempt, only for Tanner Gillis to complete a first down pass to Kevin Diaz on the fake, later setting up a short touchdown from Bracey to give the Rangers a 35-14 advantage.
Northwest would attempt to score one more time before the end of the first half, marching deep into Eagles' territory with six seconds left on the clock. However, Hamlin's field goal attempt would result in a rare miss, keeping the halftime score at 35-14.
Starting the second half with the ball, it appeared that the Rangers would score once again after advancing to the Hinds' 15-yard line. However, the Eagles' defense finally earned a stop on Jaylen Knight's interception of Hiers in the end zone. Seven plays later, Hinds got on the scoreboard with another short touchdown from Pittman, cutting the deficit to 35-21.
Hinds would buckle down on defense yet again, forcing Northwest into its first punt of the game and sparking some momentum on the opposing sideline. After McCray's third pass attempt of the drive was picked off by Byron "Tank" Pearson, the Rangers coughed the ball right back up on a fumble from Diaz, allowing the Eagles to take over once again.
With the Hinds fans sensing a momentum change, reigning MACCC Defensive Player of the Week Jarvis Townsend shut down any notion of a comeback, intercepting McCray three plays later for a 36-yard pick-six and the Rangers' first score of the second half, stretching the lead back to three touchdowns, 42-21.
Hinds took over with 2:13 remaining in the third quarter but failed to get anything going, as the Eagles were forced to punt. Despite a 57-yard booming kick from Houston Smith, Sheffield returned the punt 24 yards to set the Rangers up at midfield to open the fourth quarter.
Northwest concluded a six-play, 54-yard drive with Bracey's third touchdown of the day, this one from 18 yards out with 12:09 left in the contest. On the next possession, the Rangers' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, Jaquerrious Williams, would punch one in from 15 yards out for his last score on the home field, beginning the championship celebration.
As a team, Northwest delivered a season-high 651 yards of total offense, the most recorded in any game during the Benjy Parker-Stan Hill era and the most since the 2015 NJCAA Championship game, where the Rangers totaled 680 yards. Hinds would finish with 335 total yards, mostly coming in the form of 249 passing yards.
Hiers finished 14-of-22 and collected his sixth career 300-yard passing game, finishing with 343, 18 yards shy of his career-best 365-yard effort at Coahoma earlier this season. Most of his targets were to Sheffield, who logged a career-best 171 yards and two touchdowns on four total receptions.
With Saturday's performance, Hiers now ranks fifth all-time in passing yards with 4,122, surpassing Bobby Robison's total of 4,096 set from 2001-02.
Despite only reaching the end zone once, Williams quietly put together his best performance of the season, finishing with 203 yards on 23 carries. His only other career 200-yard performance came in 2019 with a 250-yard effort on 15 carries in a blowout win against Coahoma. The Tupelo native now ranks second in career rushing yards (2,345).
Fred Harris, Jr. led all Northwest defenders with nine total tackles, while Pearson earned eight tackles, an interception, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Sam Brumfield was limited to just four tackles, but two were sacks totaling in a loss of 12 yards for Hinds.
For Hinds, McCray would finish with 22 completions and 249 passing yards, while Pittman was held to 51 rushing yards on 17 carries. Tabashi Thomas hauled in seven catches for 102 yards, followed by 96 receiving yards for Burns.
Jaylen Knight finished with eight tackles and an interception to lead the Eagles' defense, followed by seven tackles from Thad Bishop.
Northwest improved to 9-2 on the season, while Hinds dropped to 8-3. The Rangers will now await the next batch of NJCAA rankings on Monday to determine where and when Northwest will play in the inaugural four-team playoff format.