Natchez junior makes big plays in win

Published 11:05 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

SUMMITT — Natchez came away with a close 39-35 win over MHSAA 5A District foe North Pike Friday night. 

The win moves the Bulldogs to 3-4 for the season and 1-0 in region play. 

North Pike made the game close in the second half with a 45-yard touchdown pass to draw within four points with about 3:40 to go in the game. Natchez Head Coach Steve Davis was livid as he walked onto the field and let his secondary hear his frustration at allowing another big touchdown play.

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Natchez did not start out the game that way. Offensively, they struggled to get going but defense and special teams made big plays. 

Natchez senior cornerback Gary Bailey made the first big play for the Bulldogs. He made an interception and returned the ball down to the 15 yard line of North Pike. Junior quarterback Kaden Walton stepped into the game and scored on a 15-yard quarterback keeper. 

North Pike made another mistake when a handoff was fumbled in the backfield. Natchez junior linebacker Jakel Irving weaved through diving bodies and picked up the football. He turned down the sideline and tight roped into the endzone to give Natchez a 13-0 lead with 16 seconds left in the first quarter. 

Natchez forced a punt from North Pike which found the waiting arms of junior defensive back Dajuan Culbert. He read the blocks and found a seam down the left hand side of the field and sprinted down the sidelines. North Pike was left in the dust looking at his shoe bottoms as he scored on a 60 yard punt return. 

Culbert scored 52 seconds later when a North Pike running back fumbled the football and he scooped and scored on a 60 yard return. Natchez led 25-0 with 10:05 in the second quarter. 

“It felt good. I had to come out here and help the team. I’m glad I did because our quarterback got hurt,” Culbert said. “On the punt return, I just saw my teammates blocking for me and then it was open green grass. It was good to start off like that because they came back. It was good to lead off strong.”

North Pike took its first bite out of the Natchez lead after a 63-yard pass put the Jaguars two yards shy of the endzone. A rushing touchdown with 6:43 in the second quarter cut the lead to 18. The Jaguars scored again before halftime on a one yard rush to make it Natchez 25-15 North Pike.

Natchez scored the first touchdown of the second half when Carl McDonald scored on a 2- yard rush. Sadly, Kaden Walton was injured on the play before and left the game. He was on the sidelines in the fourth quarter wearing a sling on his right arm, his throwing arm. 

North Pike answered with a five-yard touchdown pass to bring the Natchez lead to 33-23. 

Carl McDonald appeared to have iced the game when he broke away on a 53 yard rushing touchdown. Natchez led 39-23 on North Pike with 6:44 left in the fourth quarter. 

The Bulldog secondary showed cracks as North Pike struck again through the air. A 62 yard touchdown pass cut the Bulldog lead down to 10 with five minutes to go. 

Two false starts on the ensuing possession cost the Bulldogs a shot at getting the first down and killing the clock. North Pike scored that 45-yard touchdown pass to make things interesting. Fortunately, Natchez recovered the onside kick. Culbert said the North Pike comeback was due to a few things. 

“Losing Walton was bad. It pushed the defense and we knew we had to help our offense but it hurt us,” Culbert said. “Injuries and secondary hurt us in the second half. I feel like we slacked up but we got it together. 1-0 in region play is a good start. We are trying to make it to the playoffs. We need to run a little more and get better stamina. We were tired from going back on the field so much.” 

Natchez will host South Jones next Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.