HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - North Forrest played a more physical first half, but costly mistakes and big plays from East Marion in the fourth ultimately led to a 25-6 East Marion victory. With the win, and Bassfield losing to Taylorsville, East Marion (7-1, 2-1) now sits tied atop the division standings.
The night started off as some might have expected it too; with Dandy Dozen running back Xavier Grindle returning the opening kickoff to the Marion 40-yard line. The game also turned on a play from Grindle.
With the score 12-6 in the fourth quarter, and North Forrest (5-4, 1-2) hanging on, Grindle fielded a low, one-hop punt, evaded what looked to be the entire North Forrest punting unit and returned the kick almost 60 yards for the score to make it 18-6. That play seemed to ultimately seal the fate of the North Forrest eagles and broke things open for the East marion eagles.
The following drive, East Marion quarterback Deandre Johnson connected with receiver Antoine Mitchell in the endzone to make the score 24-6. Johnson finished the night with three touchdowns, two rushing and one throwing.
As spectacular a play as Grindle's punt return was, the North Forrest defense kept him in check for most of the night. After his kick return to start the game, Grindle's longest run of the first half came on a handoff to the left side that went for 17 yards. The play set up Johnson's first rushing touchdown.
Johnson got his second rushing touchdown when he faked the hand-off to Grindle, rolled to the opposite sideline and crossed the goal line. That score made it 12-0. It was after that play that the momentum seemed to swing in North Forest's favor.
The eagles methodically moved the ball down the field, aided by a few penalties, and got their first score of the night when North Forrest quarterback Jalen Haskin handed off to Lawrence Hopkins, who used his quickness to juke out a few defenders, his speed to carry him to the 10, and his strength to drag two defenders with him to the endzone.
That score with under three minutes remaining in the half made it a 12-6 ball game, and put North Forrest right back in things. The eagles wearing the home blue got another crack at the endzone when they got the ball back at mid-field with about a minute and a half left until halftime.
North Forrest drove all the way down to about the 15-yard line, but Haskin coughed the ball up on a quarterback-scramble play, and the threat ended. The home team got a two more chances in the third quarter to tie the game, but both attempts ended the same way.
Facing first-and-goal on the ten, penalties backed the ball to the twenty, and both drives ended on failed fourth-down heaves to the endzone. With the loss, North Forrest dropped its second straight game, and now must go back on the road to face Lumberton.
Meanwhile East Marion travels to Raymond before returning home for its final home game with Richton.