Trying to find a silver lining in a game where your defense allowed 700 total yards and your offense squandered several scoring chances became the task of Northeastern A&M head coach Rob Green and his staff following Saturday's 46-36 loss to Cisco, Texas.
“The first thing we looked at Sunday was the mistakes that we made,” Green said. “Many times they were mistakes that we made before (two lost fumbles and four interceptions) that we tended to overlook because we were winning.”
Cisco (4-1 overall and 2-1 in the SWJCFC) parlayed the six NEO turnovers into a 27-yard field goal by Matt Davis late in the second quarter and a 60-yard touchdown of an interception by Matt Kinney.
“We knew going into the game that we weren't going to be able to run the football effectively because Bo (Bowling) has a leg injury,” Green said. “We're at our best as a running football team with Bo at quarterback and Shaun Baker-Hughes at tailback.”
Bowling (5-10, 205 of Tonkawa) sustained the injury in the Sept. 22 game against Arkansas Baptist. “
“He's responding to treatment, but he's not 100 percent so I was hesitant as to whether to even let him play at all,” Green said. “But he's such a competitor that nothing was going to keep him from playing.”
Bowling entered the game as the second-leading rusher in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference with 598 yards on 86 carries in four games. Playing less than three quarters, Bowling managed only 93 yards on 17 carries against Cisco.
“I knew we would have trouble running the football,” Green said. “But, I didn't anticipate that we would finish with only 96 yards on 32 carries.”
“We didn't play very well up front on the offense line,” Green said. “Some of our veteran linemen that we expected to have good steady performances just didn't. As a result, I felt that Cisco brought the fight to us along the line of scrimmage.”
NEO (4-1, 1-1) built a 10-7 lead in the first quarter on a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kaelin Woods to wide out Kevin Radford and a 39-yard field goal from Jeremy Knott.
After the Wranglers scored on a 37-yard TD pass from Andrew Mellencamp to Dorian Williams in the first quarter, Cisco added a 26-yard touchdown pass from Mellencamp to Brandon Girdy and field goals of 32 and 27 yards by Davis to build a 20-10 halftime lead.
“Another area where we had a breakdown was in our kicking game,” Green said. “Jeremy missed a 21-yard chip shot field goal (at the 6:18 mark of the second quarter) that he normally would have split the uprights with.”
The Golden Norsemen fought back to a 20-20 tie midway through the third quarter on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Woods to Radford and a 46-yard field goal by Knott.
Mellencamp heaved a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Craig with 3:46 showing on the clock to give Cisco a 26-20 lead.
Knott booted a 26-yard field goal at time expired in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 26-23.
“With six turnovers we didn't necessarily deserved to win,” Green said. “But if we do the little things like make tackles and take care of business, then we go deep into the fourth quarter with a chance to win.”
Instead, Cisco tailback Jacques Crawford showed the partisan NEO crowd why he leads the entire nation in rushing.
Crawford (6-0, 230 of Memphis, Tenn.) reeled off a 71-yard touchdown run and a 5-yard TD dash to propel Cisco to a 40-23 cushion in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter.
“He (Crawford) is by far the best runner we'll see all year,” Green said. “Even though he got 271 yards on 34 carries against us, remarkably that's below his season average.”
The Wranglers sealed the win on Kinney's 60-yard interception return with 6:50 left in the game.
Within the final three minutes, Bowling scored on a 10-yard run and Radford caught his third touchdown pass of 7 yards from Woods to close out the scoring.
Woods established a new NEO school record for most passing attempts in a single game.
Woods completed 28 of 47 passes for 342 yards with three interceptions and three touchdowns.
The previous record was 26 of 42 for 411 yards set by the late Bubba Dudley against Cameron Junior College on Oct. 21, 1967 in Miami.
“When Bo came into the game, Cisco loaded up against him,” Green said. “That forced us to go to a predominately passing game. Anytime you produce 438 total yards you should be able to win.”
Cisco's offensive explosion included 392 yards on the ground and 308 via the pass.
“Defensively we've just got to get ourselves in better position to make plays,” Green said. “There were too many times they were able to go up top on us and too many times we left the flats uncovered. Once again, these are things we've been working on and have still been able to win.”
Sophomore free safety Emmanuel Jones led the Golden Norse defense with nine unassisted tackles and nine assists with two pass deflections.
Veteran linebacker Logan Zabel contributed five solo tackles and 11 assists.
“We've either got to change our defensive schemes or make position changes,” Green said.
The Golden Norse travel to Corsicana, Texas, Saturday for a 3 p.m. conference clash with Navarro College.