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CRAWFORD â€“â€“ If the East Oktibbeha Titans would have played the first half like they did the second Friday night, they might have earned their first victory of the season.
In a tale of two halves, East Oktibbeha rallied only to come up short in a 31-22 loss to the Noxapater Tigers in a Class A, Region 3, District 4 game at Titan Field.
East Oktibbeha (0-6, 0-4 region) trailed 19-6 at halftime and fell behind 31-6 in the third quarter before staging a comeback with 16 unanswered points in the final period.
"We've got to be able to put it all together," said East Oktibbeha coach Randy Brooks, who's started a season 0-6 for the first time in his coaching career. "We have to learn how to put it all together. We're working on that. That's pretty much it. We have to learn to put a whole game together."
The Titans sputtered offensively throughout the contest, but never gave up and gave a better account of themselves in the fourth.
Monte Horsley scored on a 4-yard run and ran for the two-point conversion with 5:37 to play to pull the Titans within 31-14 and Chris Hunter scored on a 2-yard quarterback keeper and threw a two-point conversion pass to Terence Rice with 1:59 to go to end the scoring.
East Oktibbeha attempted a squib kick, but Barrett Carter recovered for Noxapater (3-3, 2-2 region) and the Tigers ran out the clock.
"I just asked the offensive line to block so we could run the ball and throw the ball," Hunter said. "I asked the running backs to run the ball hard and they did. We played hard and gave it our best. The offensive line motivated me and i motivated our wide receivers."
East Oktibbeha was limited to 36 yards rushing and lost two fumbles in the first half. The Titans put their only points on the scoreboard in the first half when Marlon Fair intercepted a pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown with 2:15 remaining in the half.
"Basically i dropped back to contain and he threw it right to me and I had to step up as a leader and take it to the house and try to turn the game around," Fair said. "I saw him try to throw it to the running back on a hitch pass and I just got my hands up and caught it.'
East Oktibbeha punted the first time it had the ball and fumbled on its next two possessions as it encountered difficulties getting untracked early.
Noxapater threatened to turn the game into a route early, scoring on its first two possessions. Stanley Smith gave the Tigers a 6-0 lead with a 4-yard run with 8:27 left in the opening quarter and quarterback Ethan Hamilton made it 13-0 with an 18-yard run with 6:32 to go in the first.
After Fair's interception return, Noxapater went ahead 19-6 with 1.7 seconds remaining in the half on a 15-yard pass from Hamilton to Gregory McBeath in the back of the end zone with Todd Johnson draped all over him.
Noxapater went ahead 25-6 with 7:20 left in the third when Trey Baber recovered a fumble by Hamilton in the end zone and 31-6 with 2:24 to go in the third on a 19-yard pass from Hamilton to Carter.
It proved to be too much of a hole for the Titans to dig their way out of.
"We've been scoring points," Brooks said. "We dug a hole for ourselves that we just couldn't get out of. If we woiuld have played that way in the first half, it could have been a different result."
East Oktibbeha was led by Hunter with 45 yards rushing on 11 attempts and 126 yards passing, and Fair with 38 yards rushing and 29 yards receving.
Fair had a 24-yard catch and Jamal Halbert had a 31-yard reception when the Titans struggled to move the ball on the ground.
East Oktibbeha was penalized 11 times for 88 yards, while Noxapater was flagged 10 times for 59 yards.