By Monty Franks
MIAMI, Okla. — Unable to overcome a 17-14 halftime deficit in the inaugural Midwest Classic Bowl presented by Downstream Resort Sunday afternoon, No. 4 ranked Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College dropped a 30-20 decision to No. 7 rated Independence (Kansas) Community College in the Multi-Purpose Sports Complex at Red Robertson Field
Playing before a record crowd in the renovated stadium of 4,230, the Golden Norsemen conclude the season with a 9-3 overall record. NEO’s last bowl victory was 21-19 over Mississippi Gulf Coast in the 2005 Dalton Defender’s Bowl in Coffeyville, Kansas.
The Pirates finish 9-2 on the season after winning the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.
“They have a great football team; very talented guys,” Golden Norse head coach Clay Patterson said. “They have a lot of Division I players and they showed that off tonight.
“It was a really good game and was a good show for everybody,” Patterson said. “It was a heckuva way to go out for us, just to be at home and have that many people at home.”
Despite the loss, the Golden Norse are 9-3-1 in the long-running series that began in 1929 under coach Floyd (Spike) Murphy and ended in 1983 under hall of fame mentor Glen Wolfe.
Second year head coach Jason Brown’s Pirates grabbed a 7-0 lead at the 3:18 juncture of the first quarter.
“Our guys rose like they have all year,” Independence head coach Jason Brown said. “It’s great to bring Independence its first bowl win in history and the most wins in school history. It’s great for the town and great for everybody.”
After covering 64 yards in just five plays, the Pirates took the lead on a 3-yard plunge by running back Jamal Scott. Nino Alibegic kicked the point-after for a 7-0 Independence lead.
NEO responded with a four-play, 63-yard drive to tie the score with 14:54 until halftime.
Darwin Thompson concluded the Norse drive with a 9-yard TD run around right end. Riley Hathhorn kicked the point-after for a 7-7 draw.
Four minutes later the Pirates running back Rakeem Boyd strung together runs of minus-1 yard, 3 yards, 4 yards and 12 yards before scoring on a 3-yard burst up the middle.
Boyd concluded the Pirates drive with a 3-yard TD run and Ailbegic’s kick created a 14-7 ICC lead with 6:44 until halftime.
An interception by Pirate defensive back Delrick Abrams of an errant Wyatt Streigerwald pass set up ICC at the NEO 41-yard line.
Following eight plays, the Pirates settled for a 34-yard field goal by Ailbegic to build a 17-7 cushion at the 6:49 mark.
The Golden Norsemen put together a 77-yard, seven-yard march to the Pirates 29-yard line.
Steigerwald dropped back and connected with wide receiver Marquan Greene for a 29-yard TD pass. Hathhorn kicked the point-after for a 17-14 deficit with 3:42 until intermission.
Following a 52-yard punt by Independence kicker Paul Wolff at the end of a three-and-out possession by the Pirates, NEO took over at their own 35-yard line.
After turning the ball over on downs, the Golden Norse forced a three-and-out series by Independence to end the first half.
Receiving the second half kickoff, the Golden Norsemen received three consecutive pass completions from Steigerwald of three yards to Marcheenan Hair, 24 yards to KJ Wells and eight yards again to Hair down to the Independence 30 yard line.
But a tackle of Thompson behind the line of scrimmage for minus-5 yards by T’Marion Johnson on a 4th-and-1 call allowed the Pirates to take over deep in their own territory.
From his own 34-yard line, Boyd took the handoff and raced 66-yards straight up the middle of NEO’s defense for a touchdown. Alibeqic kicked the point-after for a 24-14 Indy lead with 12:47 remaining in the third quarter.
After an exchange of three-and-out possessions by both teams, Steigerwald’s second interception of the game by cornerback Dior Johnson at the Indy 1-yard line ended NEO’s potential scoring drive.
The Pirates covered 98 yards in 11 plays while consuming 5:21 on the clock in the third quarter.
Key plays of the drive were a 46-yard pass from quarterback Drake Smith to Tim Fasion and a 25-yard pass from Smith to Calvin Jackson.
Boyd scored his third touchdown of the game but Alibeqic’s PAT failed for a 30-14 Pirate advantage with 6:46 left in the third quarter.
With time winding down in the quarter, a rather unusual play occurred at the Indy 39-yard line.
Steigerwald threw his third interception of the game as Zedrick Raymond made the pick at the Pirates 24-yard line. As Raymond started to return the interception, he tripped and fumbled the ball.
NEO wide receive Antwan Woods, the original target, fell on the loose ball as the Norse regained possession at the Indy 24 yard line to end the third quarter.
Just 0:36 seconds into the final stanza, Thompson scored from 6-yards out. Steigerwald’s two-point conversion pass was no good as NEO trailed by a 30-20 margin with 14:24 remaining in the game.
Moving from their own 11-yard line to the NEO 24, Alibeqic missed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right at the 10:21 juncture.
The Golden Norse moved from their own 31-yard line down to the Independence 8-yard line for a potential scoring chance. But, Steigerwald fumbled on a carry down to the 1-yard line. Faison fell on the loose ball ending the threat at the 3:22 mark.
Carries of 3, 9, 2 and 1 yard by Boyd along with rushes of 3 and 4 yards by Scott successfully milked the remaining time off the clock.
NEO accumulated 442 yards in total offense compared to 470 yards by the Pirates.
Six turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles lost) proved to be the undoing of the Golden Norse offense.
“We made some mistakes early,” Patterson said. “We knew if we played really well we could come away with it and that we didn’t have a lot of room for error.
“The turnovers hurt,” Patterson said. “We overcame a couple of them, but we didn’t on some of them.
“When you play a great football team, you’ve got to be on point and we weren’t today,” Patterson said. “It’s nothing to hang our head about, for sure.”
Thompson rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries with two TDs to lead NEO’s ground game. Thompson also caught three passes for 72 yards. Watson contributed 81 yards on six rushes.
Steigerwald completed 20 of 38 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. Cordale Grundy was 0 for 3 in limited action.
“They pressured Wyatt a bit and they hit him a bit,” Patterson said. “He’s a great football player, one of the best that has ever played at NEO. We are proud of him and we love him.”
Tight end Jace Sternberger led the Norse receiving corps with four catches for 73 yards. Greene added four receptions for 56 yards and one TD while Hair caught four passes for 23 yards.
“Independence was very multiple on defense from a coverage standpoint,” Patterson said. “They played different coverages about every play.
“They were able to confuse our quarterbacks and receivers a little bit,” Patterson said. “We struggled in the run game. When we were running the football, things were good.
“We are a run based offense that can spread it,” Patterson said. “That is where we got in a little bit of trouble, They did a great job on defense and had a good plan for us, that’s for sure.”
Boyd led all ball carriers with 215 yards on 35 carries and three TDs for the Pirates. He also caught two passes for 10 yards. Scott added 31 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown.
“He (Boyd) is an NFL back,” Brown said. “He was at Texas A&M for a reason.
“He showed that today, (had 300 yards vs. Coffeyiville),” Brown said. “He was the leading runner in the (KJCCC) conference and he could be the best back in America.
“Now he’s got to graduate and move on,” Brown said. “That’s my job. He is a special talent.”
Smith completed 14 of 31 passes for 230 yards without at TD and one interception.
Carlos Thompson paced the Pirate receivers with four catches for 47 yards while Boo McKnight caught four passes for 33 yards. Fasion contributed two receptions for 78 yards. Margwell Odom caught two passes for 62 yards.
“We had to get the run game going because they run a lot of man coverage and we had a rookie quarterback playing,” Brown said. “We didn’t want to put too much on him. We ground and pounded it. Our guys battled and showed up.”