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 September 14, 2013

Booneville, Miss. – Nick Johnson and the Northeast Mississippi Community College defense did not crack under pressure on Thursday night in perhaps the most intense situation it will face all season.

With Holmes Community College taking possession of the football following a fumble just 16 yards away from taking a lead with minutes to play, the Tigers recorded three straight tackles for loss and an interception to clinch a pivotal 17-14 victory on Military Appreciation Night at Tiger Stadium.

Johnson had two of those big stops in that sequence. He brought down Bulldogs quarterback James Ayers on the second play for a sack and then secured the win with the first pick of his sophomore campaign on a 4th down and 28 yards to go situation.

“When I dropped back to get the pick, I didn’t know it was coming to me until I turned back around,” said Johnson. “It just fell in my hands.”

Razean Prather and Lemetrius Hollins both had momentum-changing plays during that Holmes possession which set up Johnson’s interception.

It was a great night overall for the Tiger defense on a soggy field after rain fell during parts of the first and second quarters. Northeast’s defensive front got through Holmes’ offensive line and recorded ten tackles for loss and three sacks.

Prather, a Ripley native, had his strongest performance of the year thus far with eleven total tackles, four of them for loss. Fellow sophomore Justin Coleman from Cleveland also added eight tackles.

“We made a lot of plays. The guys finally woke up and they started playing like we knew they could and we just turned it loose tonight,” said Northeast defensive coordinator Travis Macon. “We told the guys we’ve just got to keep giving one-hundred percent.

“We’ve been playing first half football and second half football. We never played four quarters, but tonight we put it all together.”

Both teams missed field goal attempts in the first quarter, but Northeast kicker Chris Cooper redeemed himself with a 32-yard make to give the Tigers (1-2, 1-0 Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division) a 3-0 advantage.

Holmes (0-3, 0-1) responded and took its only lead of the contest on a Percy O’Bannon 4-yard touchdown run with 3:57 remaining until halftime.

The Tigers quickly moved down the field and went ahead for good. Mitchell Cunningham ran 17 yards and was flipped by a defender into the end zone to put Northeast ahead 10-7 at the break.

Jerrard Randall scored on Northeast’s opening possession of the third quarter. A 12-yard quarterback sneak accounted for what would eventually be the winning points.

The Bulldogs offense never seemed to get into sync in the second half, but Holmes did add a special teams touchdown when a bad snap on a punt attempt sailed over Cooper’s head and was recovered in the end zone by Terrious Triplett.

Northeast again struggled with turnovers. The high snap in which Triplett scored was one of three fumbles on the night for the Tigers.

“We’ve been struggling the last couple of games, but a win’s a win,” Tigers head coach Ricky Smither said. “We put the ball on the ground too many times again tonight and there’s some things we’ve just got to get better at. But I’m proud of the effort that we put in tonight. The guys fought to the very end.”

Cunningham finished with 125 yards on the ground, his second straight game to eclipse the century mark. Randall finished with a combined 155 yards rushing and passing.

The victory was Northeast’s first inside the confines of Tiger Stadium since September 22, 2011, which was also against Holmes.

Smither and his assistant coaches unveiled new Nike camouflage uniforms to the team before kickoff that were worn during the contest as a tribute to the United States Armed Forces.

The Tigers return to the road next week to face Northwest Mississippi Community College. Kickoff between two of the three co-leaders of the North Division is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Bobby Franklin Field.

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