Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jonathan Webster

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NWCC to play for national title Sunday

By Myra Bean

Northwest Community College Ranger football team is preparing to meet Rochester for the NJCAA National Title Sunday.

The Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi is the site of this year’s championship game pitting the No. 1 Rangers against the No. 2 Yellowjackets.

Panola County will be represented as head coach Jack Wright and defensive backs coach Jonathan “Pap” Webster lead the team. Playing for the Rangers are All-Region sophomore offensive lineman Terrance Malone; freshman wide receiver Darius Thomas; and sophomore fullback Quandez Lee.

Webster, also known as Pap, spoke in a phone interview right after Northwest learned it will play in the national championship game.

Playing in this game is not a real surprise to Webster.

“We had all the confidence in the world that we were going to end up where we are now,” he said.

Northwest’s lone loss was to district foe East Mississippi. East Mississippi was involved in a benches-clearing brawl against Mississippi Delta in the final game of the regular season. Their punishment was disqualification from postseason playoffs which pushed Northwest to No. 1 seed and Itawamba to No. 2 seed.

Webster sympathized with the players at East Mississippi that the sophomores did not get to end their careers the way they had in mind.

“That is not anything anybody on our team or in our league wanted to see happen,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but at the same time that is why you always preach to the kids about being mature and doing things the right way. Because you and I know that football is more than what happens on that field.”

It was not an easy journey for Northwest this season. The Rangers were ranked No. 16 in the nation preseason and each week worked their way closer to the No. 1 ranking.

The Rangers pulled out a 31-24 win over Itawamba with 3:34 left in the game on a touchdown. Northwest defeated Hinds 38-37 in overtime the next week. The very next week the Rangers had to come from behind on a 35-yard field goal at the buzzer to defeat Hinds 42-40.

East Mississippi downed them 49-16. In the state playoffs they defeated East Central 27-20 in the first round. In the state championship, they downed Gulf Coast 34-24.

“These tight games they kept battling. They didn’t give up,” Webster said.

In the loss to East Mississippi, Webster said they needed to play mistake-free football and they did not do that.

“I don’t think we were outmatched athlete to athlete. I think we just made too many mistakes against a good team,” he said.

Looking back on the No. 16 preseason national ranking, Webster said they knew the talent on the team and what they were capable of.

“Early on you never know what you really got until you get out there and play other people,” Webster said. “We felt we had some really true pieces in places.”

The positions they were solid were the quarterback with Gardner Minshew and running back with Justin Crawford. 

“We knew what he (Crawford) was going to bring to the table,” Webster said. 

The coaches knew the offensive line was going to be strong. 

“You look around and you say on paper we look like we have a chance,” said Webster. “But it always comes down to the attitude of the team, if they are working for the same goal, if they will have each other’s back. All of those things that keep a team together.

“It is a testament to those guys that they did that,” Webster continued. “They stuck together even when things got hard. They kept each other’s back. They kept grinding and fighting. They did this.”

Yes, the coaches gave them the game plan, Webster conceded. 

“We worked them and got them better at the finer things, techniques and all of that but those players they worked their butts off and they deserve it.”

The game will kick off Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Biloxi Indian Stadium.