Bulldogs stave off Eagles comeback

Published 11:21 pm Thursday, November 4, 2021

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NATCHEZ — Bulldog quarterback Kyreek Murray had four touchdowns in Natchez’s 36-34 win over Florence Thursday night. Murray’s tears glistened in the stadium lights as the senior hugged teammates after his last game on the field.

Several Florence players walked across the field to acknowledge his performance. “You are one of the best quarterbacks we have ever faced,” an Eagles lineman said.

On a night where Murray’s arm contributed to four of the five touchdowns scored, he had to watch the defense make a play to win the game as Florence scored 19 unanswered points in the final 3 minutes and 18 seconds of the game.

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“I tell them all the time. We can’t ever get too comfortable,” Murray said. “I tell them we have to remain humble at all times or else a situation like that happens.”

The situation began when Florence cut the game to 36-22 with a one-yard rush. They recovered their onside kick with ease at midfield. Eagles struck through the air on a 32-yard pass and kicked an onside kick, which they recovered.

With 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter, they scored on an 18-yard flag route on fourth down. Needing a two-point conversion, the Eagles quarterback slung a pass into the flat, which the running back caught and stretched the ball out for the goal line.

Defenders Troy Jones and Mike Williams made a last-second tackle to cut the running back shy of the endzone. Head coach Randy Craft said it was a great play.

“Our kids fought all the way to the end,” Craft said. “Jones and Williams fought to make that tackle and save the ball game.”

Natchez had not won the game yet. Again, Florence attempted the onside kick and recovered the ball with seven seconds left.

The eagles fired one final heave towards the endzone. Koren Harris batted down the pass as time expired to give the Bulldogs the win. Florence recovered three onside kicks to turn the game around.

“If we get one of those, then we can put the game away,” Craft said. “Usually, it is hard to recover that many in a row. I guess the ball bounced their way tonight.”

Natchez had a phenomenal night with their passing attack. Murray connected with Mike Williams and Demarcco Blanton for two touchdowns each. Running back Traylon Minor also scored on a 13-yard rush.

It is his second year as a quarterback for Craft. He said Murray has gotten better with his reads and putting the ball in the hands of his playmakers. With 8:53 left in the first quarter, Murray did just that as he connected with Williams for a 55-yard touchdown pass.

“It gave me energy, and it is what I needed,” Murray said. “When you start out hot, no one can stop you. I have had a connection with them all year, and there is no better feeling than getting the ball to them to score. I know if I can get it to those two, they can get the job done.”

While senior Joshua Thomas did not have a touchdown reception in his last game as a Bulldog, he came close.

In the second half, Blanton caught a screen pass and threw a 53-yard pass to Thomas. An Eagle defender tackled him five yards shy of the endzone. As he hugged his quarterback at midfield, Thomas said, “I love you, man.”

Craft said it feels good to send his seniors out with a win.

“It is something they will remember for a long time,” Craft said. “It is great for them to remember going forward. I want to give a shout-out to our seniors and their dedication to us. It paid off tonight.”