By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer
MIAMI, Okla. —
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M advanced to the championship game of the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoffs by holding off Tyler 37-35 on Saturday.
“Finally, we got to zero,” NEO head coach Dale Patterson said of clock-watching at Robertson Field.
“These conference games are never over until they’re over,” Patterson said. “The teams are talented. ... everybody comes back.”
The Golden Norsemen (9-1), the No. 1 seed in the four-team playoffs and ranked fourth by the NJCAA, reached the SWJCFC postseason finals for the first time since 2003. NEO will entertain 13th-ranked Navarro next Saturday afternoon.
Defending champion Navarro (8-2), the No. 3 seed, expanded a 17-7 halftime lead in beating second-seeded, eighth-ranked Kilgore 42-14 in the other semifinal. Kilgore and NEO tied at 5-1 for the SWJCFC regular-season crown.
Tyler, which outlasted NEO 65-59 in two overtimes in Texas five weeks ago, trailed 34-7 at the half.
Said NEO quarterback Clayton Mitchem: “The first half was one of our better ones this season (the Norse had more yardage 375-166). We stayed together and everyone did their assignments.”
But NEO generated just 161 yards in the second half and produced only a 29-yard field goal by Kevin King in the third period.
Said Norse offensive coordinator Doug Buckmaster: “We had a couple of chances to really put the game away in the third quarter. I believe we played the game the way we needed (in the second half). We were conservative because of the score and the way the game played out.”
The Apaches, who finished 5-5 under Danny Palmer, created the final score with 4:19 left in the game on backup quarterback Lamar Carraway’s 19-yard scoring pass to Jeremy Chappelle. But Carraway then threw incomplete on the conversion.
NEO responded by rushing for three first downs to run out the clock. Mitchem and Casey Curtis secured the vital yards.
Said Curtis: “I wanted to score. But, for sure, I wanted those first downs. The counter play worked on that last drive.”
Added Patterson: “It was another good team effort. We’re a very good team and hard to beat when we play together.”
Mitchem, who had scoring runs of 1 and 25 yards, finished with 128 on 21 carries and completed 14 of 29 passes for two TDs. Kameron Doolittle (46 yards) and Garrett Powell (70), who punted four times for a 42-yard average, caught the scoring passes.
Powell’s TD boosted Mitchem’s career TD passes to an NEO record 28 to oust Steve Watson (1968-69).
Curtis added 126 yards on 22 carries and Gerald Howse had 58 on 10. Mitchem hit six different receivers with Powell catching four for 108 yards.
The Apaches received 309 passing yards from starter Tyrik Rollison, who left at 7:42 in the third quarter after an apparent ankle injury, and Carraway (11 of 15 for 147). Tracy Smith had eight receptions for 108 yards and Chappelle nine for 88.
NEO’s Devron Moore, freshman from Carthage, had his seventh interception of the season.
Carraway, who threw for two TDs, also scored on a 10-yard run. Rollison found Chappelle for a 39-yard scoring strike and Carraway, in addition to hitting Chappelle, hooked up twice with Tracy Smith (61, 10).
It turns out that Navarro earns a quick shot to avenge its 26-24 loss at NEO on Oct. 27.