Jarquez Hunter runs for 179 yards and 2 TDs to lead No. 8 Neshoba Central past Tupelo

Senior running back Jarquez Hunter rushed for 179 yards on 32 carries and scored two touchdowns to lead the Neshoba Central Rockets to a 25-17 win over Tupelo Friday night in the 2020 season opener for both teams.

Hunter added had two catches for 26 yards, giving him 205 total offensive yards. Hunter also starts at linebacker and rarely leaves the field. He had four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

“It was a great win against a quality opponent,” said Rockets Coach Patrick Schoolar. “It is one of the biggest wins for our program in the last four or five years. The defense played extremely well tonight. We gave up one long pass and a tipped pass. Without that, they wouldn’t have had 100 yards of offense.”

The Rockets struck first with a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter by Hunter Bavetta. That gave Neshoba Central a 3-0 lead with 1:01 left in quarter.

Neshoba Central linebacker Jaharon Griffin caught a Tupelo ball carrier in the end zone for a safety to extend the Rockets’ lead to 5-0.

Then the Rockets offense scored when Hunter hit pay dirt on a 35-yard run. Bavetta’s kick was good and the Rockets went up 12-0 with 9:08 left in the first half.

Tupelo got on the scoreboard when Tanner Goggins kicked a field goal, making the score 12-3.

The Rockets put two more touchdowns on the scoreboard before the half.

First, junior quarterback Eli Anderson, who finished the night with 154 total yards, ran 40 yards for a touchdown. The kick was no good and the Rockets led 18-3.

Hunter then scored his second touchdown of the night on a 34-yard rush. The kick was good and the Rockets led 25-3 at the half.

Tupelo scored on the first play of the second half when Corbin Huggins caught a 65-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Jake Ware. Goggins’ kick was good and Tupelo trailed 25-10.

Tupelo scored again in the closing seconds of the third quarter when K.D. Gibson pulled in a deflected pass for a 17-yard TD pass from Ware. Goggins’ kick was good and the score stood at 25-17.

In the final minutes, Neshoba Central drove down to the Gold Wave 25. Tupelo took over on downs and moved the ball to the Rocket 36. Then Brayden Reynolds intercepted a pass for the Rockets.

The Rockets kept the ball on the ground and Tupelo was forced to use its final timeout with 1:55 left. The Rockets punted, putting the Golden Wave on their own 14. Tupelo went to the air four times with all four passes falling incomplete. Neshoba Central closed out the game in the victory formation.

Neshoba Central finished with 347 total yards and 12 first downs. The Rockets rushed 44 times for 264 yards, and Anderson completed 8-of-20 passes for 83 yards. He also rushed eight times for 71 yards.

Tupelo had 209 total yards and six first downs. The Gold Wave rushed 19 times for 49 yards and completed 11-of-30 passes for 160 yards.

Neshoba Central hosts West Lauderdale next Friday night, while Tupelo hosts West Point.

— Steve Swogetinsky

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