By JOEL COLEMAN
CRAWFORD – Before Friday night, the East Oktibbeha football team hadn't even so much as worked on blocking a punt this season as admitted by head coach Randy Brooks.
Turns out the Titans didn't need the practice anyway.
Faced with a scoreless tie late in the fourth quarter against division rival West Lowndes, East Oktibbeha's Jamarquiz Page returned a blocked punt 7 yards for a touchdown to serve as the only points in the Titans' 6-0 home win.
"Once I got that ball in my hands, all I just kept thinking about was go, go, go, go for the end zone," said Page. "Do not stop. Don't let anybody touch me, just go for the end zone."
Page's score sent East Oktibbeha (5-1 overall, 3-0 in Class A, Region 3) to its first win over West Lowndes since 2006. It also spoiled the return of former Titans head coach and current Panthers leader Anthony King to Crawford.
King coached at East Oktibbeha prior to leaving the school just before the 2010 season when he departed to spend a year as an assistant coach at Noxubee County.
King was then hired as the West Lowndes coach prior to the 2011 campaign.
Despite coming up short in his first game back in Crawford, KIng admitted he was proud to see what has become of several of his former players.
"I had some of those (East Oktibbeha) guys when they were freshmen," said King. "I've been to all of their houses. I know them personally. I know their parents. Those guys have really matured and they're doing real good.
"I'm very impressed with East Oktibbeha. They're very disciplined and play some solid defense."
Both teams stepped up defensively throughout Friday night's contest.
In the first half, only one possession even reached the red zone, that coming early in the second quarter when East Oktibbeha drove from its own 21-yard line all the way to the West Lowndes 11-yard line.
However, the Panthers ended the Titans' possession when West Lowndes' Gerald Sanders intercepted East Oktibbeha quarterback Davalyn Bell's pass in the end zone on fourth down.
In the third quarter, West Lowndes (2-3 overall, 1-1 in Class A, Region 3) put together its best scoring chance.
Starting from their own 46-yard line, the Panthers drove all the way to the Titans' 2-yard line before the East Oktibbeha defense held.
"Our goal-line defense, we've been working on that all year long," Brooks said. "I tell them, if we can stop our own high-powered offense (in practice), then you can stop just about anybody."
East Oktibbeha had an offensive goal-line opportunity of its own in the fourth quarter that was spoiled on a lost fumble, allowing West Lowndes to take over on its own 2-yard line.
While unfortunate at the time, the turnover actually set up Page's game-winning touchdown.
When the Titans defense held the Panthers to a three-and-out, West Lowndes' Trevor Stowers was forced to punt from his own end zone.
That's when Brooks came up with his plan to rush Stowers, even with the Titans' inexperience at doing such.
"I just told one kid we're going to send more people at them than they can block, so go back there and block it," said Brooks.
The Titans followed their instructions to perfection.
"Dion Clanton, he blocked it for me and tipped me the ball," said Page. "After it got in my hands, I didn't want to stop. I just went for the end zone."
On West Lowndes' ensuing possession, East Oktibbeha's Jamal Halbert hauled in an interception, all but ending the Panthers' chances.
Once the final seconds ticked off the clock, East Oktibbeha felt a sense of relief at finally ending West Lowndes' recent dominance in the series.
"Breaking the streak, I just felt like we were the champions," said Page. "We felt like we're number one. We may be number five (in the Associated Press Class A rankings), but we feel like we're number one."