ANNA — The Anna-Jonesboro Wildcats knew they had to make one defensive play.
The 7-0 Wildcats scored on a 21-yard run by Jayce Turner with 2:06 to play to take a 42-36 lead on the Du Quoin Indians. But, the Indians offense had been moving the ball at will through the last quarter and a half.
Anna-Jonesboro misfired on the PAT, meaning a Du Quoin touchdown in the final minutes would likely spell defeat. The Wildcats would have to get a stop. They needed a big play.
Senior safety Noah Smith stepped into the breach. The Indians had already picked up one first down on their final possession. Quarterback Hank Stewart, who threw for 179 yards and rushed for 126 more, was flushed out of the pocket.
Stewart rolled right, buying more time. Finally, he threw on the run down the sideline. He overthrew his receiver, but Smith dove headlong toward the ball and cradled it in his arms for a sliding interception.
That play nailed down the Wildcats’ win.
“If they were able to get down and score, as good as their extra point team had been, it probably wasn’t going to be something that was going to be a win for us,” said Anna-Jonesboro coach Brett Detering. “We needed a guy to step up and make a play. Fortunately we had one guy in the right spot when the ball went there. It was a great catch. “
“We felt pretty good about going down and scoring,” said Du Quoin coach A.J. Hill. “We had three timeouts. Our pass game is pretty solid. We have a lot of playmakers out there.
”Sometimes the defense makes a play and that’s what happened tonight.”
Although Anna-Jonesboro put up solid offensive numbers, the Wildcats got some help from Du Quoin special teams. Two bad snaps on punts led to a safety and the Wildcats gaining possession on the Du Quoin one-yard line.
Those two gaffes resulted in eight points, Anna-Jonesboro’s margin of victory.
“Really special teams are something that’s been pretty sharp for us all year long,” Hill said. “We haven’t had those kinds of mistakes. Sometimes in a game like this, that ends up being the difference in the game. I know our guys are hurting right now because they felt like they were in that game.”
When given the opportunity, the Wildcats cashed in.
“We did,” Detering said. “I’m not going to apologize for that. You have to be able to execute plays. That goes through the game. We were certainly the beneficiary of some special teams mistakes. Good teams take advantage of mistakes.”
Fullback Jayce Turner ran for 95 yards and four touchdowns for Anna-Jonesboro. Quarterback Bryce Osman had 95 rushing yards and a touchdown.
In addition to Stewart’s big night, Du Quoin’s Klayton Donoghue grabbed five passes for 154 yards.
The game began as a shootout, with Anna-Jonesboro outscoring Du Quoin 19-14 in the first quarter.
“I really thought it was going to be more of a slower-paced game,” Detering said. “I thought for us it was going to have to be grind out yards. For us, it still was kind of grind out yardage. They were able to get some big plays from the pass game. We didn’t defend that as well as we needed to, but man they have some athletes.”
The win gives the Wildcats at least a share of the SIRR Mississippi Division title. They fell one game short last year, losing the final conference game at Du Quoin.
“We felt like we should have won a conference championship last year,” Detering said. “We were one play short. We felt like we had done enough to get a championship. That was what our motivating factor tonight. Our kids wanted to go get something we weren’t able to get done last week.”