Meridian wins first divisional game, improves to 4-1 with 42-25 victory against Northwest Rankin

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Sep. 25—Meridian's Fernando Atterberry broke a bone in his left arm against Northeast Lauderdale Sept. 3, so it's a good thing he's right handed.

The junior defensive back made the most of his right hand, hauling in an interception early in the second quarter to jump-start his team, and he also scored on a fumble recovery he picked up on the Northwest Rankin 8-yard line later in the quarter to help Meridian beat the Cougars 42-25 in Friday night prep football action at Ray Stadium.

Normally a two-way player, Atterberry's injury has limited him to defensive back for the time being, but Wildcats head coach John Douglass said Atterberry is still making an impact on the field as he showed Friday night.

"It's amazing that a one-armed man can scoop it up like that and no one else can get their hands on it," Douglass said with a laugh. "Fernando is a great football player. We miss him on offense because he's just one more thing people have to pay attention to and worry about. Obviously he can catch with the cast on and can control the football, so we may start easing him back in to what we're doing offensively, but we're glad he's out there in some capacity."

Northwest Rankin took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter after hitting a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter and had a safety with 8:12 left in the second after a Meridian snap sailed over the punter's head into the back of the end zone. The Cougars were driving before Atterberry's interception on the Meridian 31-yard line with 7:55 to go, and two plays later, his brother Howard Atterberry scored on a 57-yard run to give Meridian a 6-5 lead with seven minutes remaining in the half.

"It gave us momentum so we could get the W," Fernando Atterberry said. "I'm a little hesitant (with my arm), but I had to leave it all on the field."

With 5:27 left in the half, a bad Northwest Rankin snap resulted in a mad rush for the ball inside the Cougars' 30, and the ball bounced several times all the way to the 8 before Fernando Atterberry could finally gain control of it and run it in for a touchdown. Daniel Hill's two-point run gave the Wildcats a 14-5 advantage.

"I was just lucky," Fernando Atterberry admitted. "It was just luck."

The Cougars cut the lead to 14-12 right before the half on a 13-yard touchdown run by Jalen Nelson with 34 seconds left in the frame, and they regained the lead 19-14 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter on a 70-yard scoring run by Nelson.

But Meridian wasn't done scoring as Jonathan Vaughn had a 58-yard touchdown run with 3:08 remaining in the third, and the two-point run by Hill put the Wildcats back ahead 22-19. On the final play of the third quarter, Hill scored on a 60-yard carry to give Meridian a 28-19 advantage going into the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats scored two more times in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard run by Vaughn and a 35-yard carry by Hill, while the Cougars added one more touchdown on a 65-yard pass to make it 42-25. The win improved Meridian to 4-1 on the season and 1-0 in Region 3-6A.

"It feels great," Fernando Atterberry said of being 4-1. "Everything is finally coming together."

While there are still goals the team wants to achieve, Douglass said starting the season 4-1 and winning the first divisional game is a step in the right direction for Meridian.

"We haven't been 4-1 around here in a while," Douglass said. "It feels really good, and to be honest, being 1-0 in the district probably feels even better."

Meridian is scheduled to play at Pearl next week.