Tigers rally to cage Crimson Storm in OT, 37-30

BETHANY - East Central University, behind the second-half passing of quarterback Marcus Johnson, overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit and knocked off Southern Nazarene 37-30 in overtime in non-conference football action Saturday afternoon at SNU Stadium.

The Tigers tied the game at 24-all on Corey Dozier’s 32-yard field goal with 4:06 to go in regulation, forcing the overtime session.

SNU got the ball first in OT and scored on the first play as Tanner Roberson fired a 25-yard scoring pass to Jacob Smith. However, the extra point was blocked.

On ECU’s possession, the Tigers used four plays, capped by Johnson’s 11-yard scoring pass to Tyrone Gibbs. But Dozier’s PAT sailed wide as the score remained at 30-30.

ECU had the first possession of the second OT session as it took just two plays to score as Johnson hooked with Keewan King on a 22-yarder. Dozier then converted the PAT kick for a 37-30 Tiger advantage.

SNU appeared to have some momentum on the first play when Roberson scrambled for 12 yards to the 13. The Crimson Storm got as far as the 8, but on third-and-five, Roberson fumbled the ball as the Tigers’ Isaac Ramirez made the recovery, ending the game.

Johnson, who didn’t play the first half, was 21-of-34 passing for 288 yards and three touchdowns. His 28-yard TD pass to Gibbs with 4:41 left in the third quarter got the Tigers on the board. ECU opted for the 2-point conversion try and executed as Johnson fired to Gibbs to pull the Tigers within 24-8.

On the ensuing possession, the Crimson Storm reached the ECU 44-yard line, before the Tigers picked up their first of three interceptions in the game as Derrick Suggs picked off Roberson’s aerial and returned it 62 yards down to the SNU 2-yard line.

Joshua Maldanado ultimately scored off a 5-yard run to pull the Tigers within 24-14. The two-point conversion pass by Johnson failed as the ECU deficit remained at 10 with 2:48 to go in the third.

ECU, which entered the game with no interceptions on the season, soon got its second in the final minute of the third as Trevor Carpenter pilfered a Roberson pass and returned it 27 yards to the Crimson Storm 43.

The Tigers then moved the remaining yards in six plays as Johnson rushed into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Key plays on the drive were a 10-yard scramble by Johnson and a 17-yard pass from Johnson to Justin Heimer. Dozier’s PAT pulled ECU within 24-21 with 12:52 to go in regulation.

Thanks to yet another Tiger pickoff and 44-yard return, this time by Dionte' Dean, to the ECU 46, the Tigers ultimately got into position for Dozier’s 32-yard field goal.

After ECU’s defense stuffed the Crimson Storm, the Tigers tried to get the win and avoid overtime, but a 53-yard field-goal attempt by Dozier was no good with 45 seconds left.

In the receiving department, King collected a game-leading nine catches for 95 yards, including his game-winner in OT while Quade Soffel, Gibbs and Larry Carter each caught four passes each. Gibbs had two touchdown catches along with the 2-point conversion reception.

The Tigers had 430 yards of offense, 357 of which came through the air. Lee Blankenship was 6-of-10 passing for 69 yards and an interception in the first half.

Defensively for ECU, linebacker Tait Langston had five solo tackles and assisted on six more, one of which led to lost yards.

For the Crimson Storm, Roberson ran for 106 yards on 16 carries and also completed 14-of-24 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown to Travis Boyd for eight yards. Branden Smith netted 64 yards on 14 carries and scored once off a 1-yard run. Jacob Smith scored from one yard out to give SNU an early 6-0 advantage.

The Crimson Storm compiled 401 yards of offense, including 266 on the ground.

The Tigers’ next action will be Saturday as they battle Texas A&M-Commerce at 2 p.m. in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for the Harvey Martin Classic.