The Cliff Collins era at Southwest Mississippi Community College is off to a strong start, as the Bears got two touchdowns apiece from Luke Alleman and Dalyn McDonald in Saturday’s thrilling 41-35 season-opening win over visiting Itawamba Community College.
“I’m excited for the players, they did a great job,” Collins said. “They deserved this more than anybody. I can’t be more excited. With all of the hard work and the adversity that we were faced with this week with the hurricane and moving the game, the kids adapted, they locked in and they did what I asked them to do. We made some mistakes but at the end of the day, we won the game.”
Despite the offense beginning the game with a turnover on the first play from scrimmage, the Bears’ (1-0) defense quickly rose to the occasion, forcing the Indians (0-1) to a three-and-out.
After getting the ball back, Alleman led the Bears down the field, however, a missed field goal kept the game scoreless.
The scoring drought was broken at the 4:57 mark of the first quarter when Alleman got key blocks from his big offensive line before finding the end zone from three yards out. Kicker Tres Ladner added the point after giving SMCC a 7-0 advantage.
“It was just a zone read and I feel like the (defensive) end, he just crashed too hard, so I pulled it, executed and ran in the touchdown,” Alleman said.
On the first play of the second quarter, McDonald hauled in an ICC punt at the 50-yard line and dashed through the Indian defenders for a 50-yard return for a score. Ladner’s extra point made it a 14-0 lead for the hosts.
After yet another impressive stop for the Bear defense against a talented Indian bunch, Alleman and the offense went back to work. The Thibodaux (La.) High School product helped lead a 47-yard drive that wrapped with a 27-yard field goal by Ladner putting the Bears up 17-0.
On the ensuing drive, SMCC recorded its lone takeaway of the day as Kendreal Thompson sacked ICC quarterback Dylan Faulk, causing a fumble which was recovered by Detorurean Crosby at the Bear 40-yard line.
SMCC capitalized on the turnover marching down the field before Jerry Johnson closed the drive with a three-yard touchdown run increasing the Bear lead to 24-0.
The Indians answered, putting their first points on the scoreboard with a short touchdown run from Jamal Brooks cutting into the lead, making it a 24-7 game.
ICC put together a quick touchdown drive to open the third quarter before repeating that process two drives later pulling within three at 24-21.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ladner provided a bit more cushion for SMCC, connecting on a 22-yard field goal pushing the Bears back ahead by six.
But it was quickly answered by a touchdown and extra point from the Indians as they took their first lead of the contest at 28-27.
That deficit only lasted 14 seconds as McDonald took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for the touchdown, notching his second special teams score of the day and bringing the hundreds of Bears fans in attendance at John I. Hurst Stadium to their feet.
“We were losing, and we knew that we had to score,” McDonald said. “I knew that I had to get momentum for the team.”
The back-and-forth battle continued later in the fourth quarter as ICC jumped ahead by one once again with a short run by Faulk.
With only four minutes to go, Alleman and the Bears kept their cool. The freshman quarterback completed consecutive passes to Tyrese Keyes, Jacoby Bellazar and Ja’Coby Matthews before finding Bellazar once again on a slant where the Baton Rouge product hauled in a low pass and raced into the end zone from 40 yards out. A successful PAT by Ladner made the score 41-35 in favor of the Bears.
“I thank the coaches for giving me the opportunity,” Bellazar said. He led the Bears with nine catches for 145 yards and the score. Alleman had 301 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 22-of-38 passing. On the ground, he finished with eight carries for 20 yards and a score.
Following the Bellazar touchdown reception, the SMCC defense came up with one final stop late, forcing a turnover on downs and helping to preserve the season-opening win for the Bears. South Pike alum Buddy Felder led the Bears’ defense with nine tackles, two and half of which were for loss.
SMCC returns to action Thursday hosting East Mississippi.