Big plays key Natchez’s victory over Brandon

Published 2:05 am Saturday, October 11, 2008

NATCHEZ — It’s been a while since Keith Dee has run with the football. Eighth grade to be exact.

Back then, he was a running back, before he filled out to 6-feet tall and 284 pounds and was turned into a defensive lineman for Natchez High.

But Friday night he put his running skills to the test just when the Bulldogs needed them most.

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With Natchez (3-3, 1-2) clinging to a 27-20 lead over Brandon (3-4, 1-2) with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Keith Dee intercepted a screen pass and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown for the clinching points in what would eventually become a 41-28 Region 3-5A victory.

The big lineman showed off some moves in his jaunt to pay dirt, cutting back across the field to avoid the final defender and setting off a wild celebration among the Bulldog players and coaches.

“I guess I learned those moves in the eighth grade,” Dee said. “I wasn’t as big back then.”

Natchez High coach Lance Reed had a bit of a different take on it.

“We can’t even get him to run that far in practice,” Reed joked. “That was great. It’s a joy to see the kids do good things. I’m very happy for him.”

It was a critical victory for Natchez, as they avoided going 0-3 in region play. The Bulldogs have four region games remaining and need to win at least three of them for a chance at the playoffs.

Dee’s interception return might have been the final big play of the night, but it was far from the only one.

It took several big plays to keep Natchez’s season from drifting so far off course that the playoffs would be out of the question.

Big play No. 1: Natchez looked to have no momentum after Brandon had come back from down 14-0 to tie the score early in the third quarter.

That’s when senior receiver Rico Richardson stepped to the forefront.

Richardson took a handoff on a sweep around the left end, cut back across the field and out-raced the defense for a 74-yard touchdown run to give the Bulldogs a 21-14 lead after Charell Carter’s extra point with 1:29 left in the third quarter.

Big play No. 2: After Natchez’s touchdown, Brandon stormed right back down the field, quickly scoring a touchdown on a 7-yard run by Patrick Durr.

However, Zack Evans reached up and blocked Brandon’s extra point attempt to keep Natchez in the lead.

“That was a big play as far as momentum was concerned,” Reed said. “We’re front-runners. When things are good we’re tough to handle, but we struggle overcoming bad times. That block kept us in the lead and helped us continue to play hard.”

Big play No. 3 was actually a series of plays — running plays to be exact.

Up by a point, Natchez went on a time-consuming, run-oriented drive.

Quarterback Javon Washington, who had thrown the ball 17 times in the first half, only threw it twice on the drive, and both were completions.

The drive ended when Joel Davis took an option pitch and powered his way into the end zone from 3 yards out with 5:22 left to give Natchez a 27-20 lead.

Reed said it was important for Natchez to establish the run in the second half after not being able to do anything on the ground in the first 24 minutes.

“We definitely want to run the ball,” Reed said. “We got a feel of what the Brandon defense was doing, and we were able to pop a couple of big runs.”

After Dee’s interception return gave Natchez a 34-20 lead, the Bulldog defense forced Brandon to turn the ball over on downs, and Davis would turn in the final big play of the night.

The junior got his second touchdown run of the quarter when he tore through the line for 37 yards with just 37 seconds left in the game.

Durr would make the final score more respectable when he broke loose for an 87-yard touchdown run for Brandon with 11 seconds left, but by that time, the Bulldogs were already celebrating a huge region victory.

“This was a big win, but we’ve still got to get four more to reach our goal,” Dee said.

And the Bulldogs are apparently ready to get those wins.

After the game, Reed told the team he was going to give them today off from practicing as a reward, but the players said they wanted to practice today.

It’s amazing how one win — and five big plays — can turn a season, and a team’s attitude, completely around.