On the opening night of football for central Ohio high school programs, Walnut Ridge’s defense was close to midseason form.

The Scots showed their opportunistic side Aug. 23 at Mifflin, as they returned two fumbles for touchdowns and beat the Punchers 55-7 in the first matchup between the programs since 2008.

Sincere Staples rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard score with 2 minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the third quarter to lead the Scots’ offense.

In a matchup of teams that made the playoffs last season, Walnut Ridge held Mifflin to 15 yards of offense in the first half.

“We knew we just had to man up and start playing football because everyone was acting scared at first,” senior wide receiver and defensive back Julius Wood said. “I just felt like everybody had to get used to it at the end, but once we got rolling, it was everywhere. We are rough and there isn’t too much people are going to do about (our defense).”

Another standout for the Scots was Qian Magwood, who returned an interception for a touchdown, had a touchdown reception and forced a fumble.

Walnut Ridge took a 7-0 lead with 4:50 left in the first quarter when Magwood forced a fumble that was recovered by Marshawn Mankins and returned 68 yards for a touchdown.

The Scots’ Daaron Brown intercepted a pass from Jalen Owens at the Mifflin 47 to set up his team’s second score, a 4-yard run by Staples with 6:20 left in the second quarter.

On the second play of Mifflin’s ensuing possession, Wood forced a fumble that was recovered by Melvin Patterson and returned 12 yards for a score.

“We pride ourselves on taking advantage on turnovers, and that was something we were able to do tonight,” Scots coach Byron Mattox said.

Walnut Ridge stretched its lead to 27-0 with 28 seconds left in the first half when Magwood scored on a 5-yard pass from Isaiah Murphy. The score was set up by a 28-yard reception by Jerrell Harrison two plays earlier.

Tawon Cannon, who took over at quarterback for Mifflin in the second half, threw a 3-yard touchdown to Aman Thornton for the Punchers’ only score.

Thornton left the game with an ankle injury in the first half before returning.

“(You) can’t turn the ball over,” Punchers coach Anthony Thornton said. “We played the defense we needed to play and had the opportunities.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

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Team 1 2 3 4 Final WALNUT RIDGE 7 20 13 15 55 MIFFLIN 0 0 7 0 7

WR—Mankins 68 fumble return (H. Thornton kick)

WR—Staples 4 run (H. Thornton kick)

WR—Patterson 12 fumble return (H. Thornton kick)

WR—Magwood 5 pass from Murphy (kick failed)

M—A. Thornton 3 pass from Cannon (A. Thornton kick)

WR—Staples 70 run (H. Thornton kick)

WR—Magwood 36 interception return (kick failed)

WR—Leach 54 run (H. Thornton kick)

WR—Felts 1 run (H. Thornton run)