Locked in a defensive struggle for most of the first half, No. 3 Northwest managed to break away with a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter, as the Rangers opened the season with a 31-12 victory against Copiah-Lincoln on Thursday evening.
Both offenses went for it all early, opting to attempt fourth-down conversions on their first possessions. However, neither team could capitalize on either attempt, as the scoreless tug-of-war continued for most of the first quarter.
With just over a minute remaining in the opening quarter, the Rangers finally hit the jackpot, as Jamie Shaw scored from two yards out to cap off a seven-play, 75-yard drive. Eli Hamlin followed with his first successful PAT, as Northwest took a 7-0 lead into the second quarter.
Copiah-Lincoln responded midway through the second quarter on a 12-yard touchdown run from Bobby Shanklin, but a missed PAT from Bryce Lofton kept the Rangers ahead, 7-6.
With under three minutes remaining in the first half, the Rangers struck again on a pair of big passes from Hiers. The second-year starter from Birmingham hit D.T. Sheffield on a 46-yard pass and immediately followed with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Keyon Fordham, moving the Rangers to what would be a 14-6 halftime advantage.
Northwest opened the second half on offense and found the end zone once again within three plays, as Hiers once again found Sheffield for a 59-yard strike to stretch the lead to 21-6.
Copiah-Lincoln started to click on its next possession and drove all the way down to the Rangers' 31-yard line early in the third quarter. However, a pair of incomplete passes on third and fourth down denied the Wolves a chance at the end zone, as the Northwest defense stood tall once more.
On their next drive, the Rangers marched down the field on a 13-play, 69-yard drive, which culminated in a short Jamarien Bracey touchdown to push the lead to 28-6 with 4:59 left in the quarter.
Northwest opened the fourth quarter in the middle of an eight-play, 28-yard drive, scoring less than a minute into the period on a 23-yard field goal from Hamlin. The successful kick from the Terry, Miss. native made it a comfortable 31-6 lead for the Rangers.
Determined to cut into the deficit, the Wolves marched to the Rangers' 7-yard line, only for the Northwest defense to once again deny the visitors on fourth and goal, surrendering possession back to Northwest. However, the Rangers would cough the ball up on their first play and send the ball back to Copiah-Lincoln, which finally scored on a short pass from Paul Hargrave to Harold Rhodes.
Despite surrendering a late touchdown, the defense earned another small victory on the ensuing PAT, as Tevin Bell blocked Lofton's kick to deny the Wolves another point.
With 6:53 left in the contest, the Rangers began to burn the clock and after a fumble recovery by Trace White with 3:09 remaining, Northwest began to line up in victory formation to officially seal the victory.
Hiers completed 16 of his 27 passes and quietly tossed for 306 yards, earning his third career 300-yard passing game. Sheffield led the Rangers' receiving unit with four catches on 124 yards, while Fordham raked in 87 yards on his three receptions.
Neither team could get the ground game going all night, as the Rangers edged the Wolves 190-123 in total rushing yards. Jaquerrious Williams led all tailbacks with 89 yards on 12 carries.
For Copiah-Lincoln, Hargrave finished with just 62 passing yards and 12 completions, while Shanklin totaled just 47 yards on the ground. Tyquan Henderson emerged as the Wolves' leading receiver, earning 35 yards on three receptions.
Sam Brumfield led the Northwest defense with eight total tackles, including a five-yard sack. Kylan Robinson notched six tackles for the evening, while Micheal Campbell and Rayyan Buell earned five tackles each, with Campbell accounting for a 17-yard sack, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.
Abdural Lee led the Wolves' defense with 10 tackles, followed by eight from Shawn Wade.
Northwest totaled 436 yards of total offense, compared to just 153 from Copiah-Lincoln. Both teams also finished with five penalties for 45 yards.
Next up for Northwest will be a battle at Jones College on Thursday, September 9 in Ellisville. The Bobcats (1-0) opened up their season with a dominant 41-17 victory against Northeast on Thursday evening.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. with live stats and broadcast coverage on nwccrangers.com.