In a shootout where both teams did things they hadn’t done all season, the East Central University Tigers used something they suddenly excel at to finally beat Northeastern Saturday and capture a surprising Lone Star Conference classic between the league’s last two winless teams.

Charlie Burks, a speedy freshman defensive back from Fossil Ridge, Texas, who had already blocked one field goal in the game, stormed in from the left side of the ECU defense to smother a 36-yard attempt by NSU kicker Jared Homer on the first possession for either club in overtime. Burks’ block — ECU’s fourth in two games — set off a three-player chain reaction capped by junior Ryan Madison’s 52-yard sprint for a special teams touchdown that was the last hurrah in the Tigers’ wild 55-49 victory.

“I just came in from the left side and No. 11 (Damein Henderson, who manned the right side of the NSU kick formation) never touched me,” Burks said of his game-winning play, which came just three snaps after Northeastern had tied the game on the final play of regulation on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Kaelin Woods to wideout Jarrett Byers — Woods’ fifth scoring pass of the game. “I blocked that kick in the first half (a 34-yarder at the end of NSU’s first possession), and I told Coach (Todd) Fugett (an assistant with linebackers and special teams) that I could block another one. I timed it just right.”

After Burks took Homer’s kick off his chest, Dionte Dean picked up the loose ball cleanly and started upfield. He ran into traffic near midfield and lateraled to Madison, who raced the final 52 yards to snap a six-game Tiger losing streak stretching back to last season and give ECU coach Kurt Nichols his first North Division win since 2006.

“You have to look at this game objectively and rationally,” Nichols said after an emotional speech to his players at midfield. “In the North, we have the most explosive offense, but we’re going to have to not just play defense but play SMART defense. We made some strides defensively today (ECU had 10 tackles for loss and three sacks after managing just 16 and two in each category through four games), but we can’t keep up this offensive pace.”

For ECU (which trailed 14-0 with almost 10 minutes left in the first quarter and led, 42-28, with 14:11 to play), Madison’s touchdown was the culmination of a three and a half-hour rollercoaster ride and of one of the most unlikely offensive explosions in LSC history.

The Tigers came into the LSC North Division opener for both teams ranked 11th in scoring at 14.5 points per game, and Northeastern was even worse, having scored just 30 points through four games. Saturday, though, the two teams combined for 1,076 yards (539 by ECU, 537 by NSU) and 863 passing yards (a school record 426 and two touchdowns by ECU’s Marcus Johnson and 437 from the NSU tandem of Woods and Matt Silcox, with Woods throwing for 425 and five scores depite sitting out the second quarter).

ECU’s running game also had its second straight solid outing, with junior tailback Josh Maldanado becoming the first Tiger back to rush for over 100 yards (he had 111 on 18 carries) and three touchdowns in a game since two-time All-Conference performer King Bennett turned the trick back in 2005.

The Tigers — who came into the game ranked 11th in the conference at 73 yards per game — rushed for 113 total yards, while the Riverhawks — 12th at 54.5 yards per game through four games — had 100 yards on the ground for the first time this season.

Stars were everywhere for both teams on both sides of the ball, but as the game wore on, it turned into a good old fashioned gunfight between Johnson — the 2007 North Division Offensive Player of the Year — and Woods, who came into the contest as the leader of an offense that ranked 12th in the LSC in passing yardage at just 136.2 yards per game.

Johnson, who started 2-for-7 for minus-2 yards, finished 28-for-46, and his 426 yards shattered the old record of 387 he set last fall. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Justin Goolsby, who finished with five catches for a career-high 126 yards and was one of 12 ECU players to catch passes in the game.

“Justin Goolsby had the best game he’s had for me in five years,” said Nichols, who also coached Goolsby at Cisco Junior College in 2004 and 2005 before they both came to ECU.

Johnson, meanwhile, credited his supporting cast for his big day.

“I wouldn’t have gotten close to the record if Justin Goolsby hadn’t made those two long touchdown catches (of 68 yards to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter and 36 yards to put the Tigers up 42-28 early in the fourth), and I’ve got to give a shout-out to my offensive line.

“I guess I was kind of nervous at the start — I was trying to make things happen myself,” Johnson said. “As the game went along, the coaches calmed everybody down. One catch turned into many catches, and one yard turned into many yards.”

As good as it was over the final three and half quarters, the ECU offense was as bad as at any time in the Nichols era during the first five minutes Saturday. The Tigers had just one positive play — a seven-yard run by Larry Carter-Holmes — on their first three series, and Northeastern took advantage of the lull to build a 14-0 lead.

After Burks blocked Homer’s first field goal attempt, the Riverhawks needed just one snap following a fumble by ECU tailback Alex Woodley on a screen pass two plays later to score their first touchdown — a strike over the middle to wideout Austin Martin (one of three NSU receivers with more than 100 yards in the game).

ECU went 3-and-out on its next possession, and, after a defensive holding penalty on the first snap of the ensuing NSU drive, tailback Prince McKinney went 70 yards virtually untouched to make it 14-0 with 9:56 still left in the quarter.

The Tigers stiffened on defense the rest of the half, however, and Johnson drove the Tigers 79 yards in 10 plays to a one-yard scoring run by Woodley with 5:49 left in the quarter to cut the NSU lead in half.

Homer — who missed five field goals in the game — hit the left upright from 49 yards out with 11:40 left in the half, and two plays later Johnson found Goolsby streaking down the middle of the field and hit him with a perfect strike from 68 yards out to tie the game (for the final time until the last play of regulation) with 11:24 remaining in the quarter.

ECU’s defense — which had forced just three turnovers (all fumble recoveries) all season — then scored its first defensive touchdown since the eighth game of the 2006 season to give the Tigers the lead for good.

With less than two minutes to go in the half, Silcox (who played only the second quarter) went back to pass on a second-and-10 from his own 41 and was chopped on the arm by ECU defensive end Brandon Hopstein and fumbled. Tiger freshman defensive end Maurice Lanclos picked up the loose ball at the 30 and raced to the end zone to make it 21-14 at the break.

ECU’s lead grew to 28-14 on Maldanado’s first touchdown — a tough four-yard run — with 5:52 left in the third quarter to cap an 81-yard drive that featured five Johnson completions to five different receivers, then the teams swapped touchdowns until late in the fourth quarter.

McKinney scored from 20 yards out on a nifty run just 82 seconds after Maldanado’s score to make it 28-21; Maldanado answered with a 10-yard burst just 63 seconds later to put ECU up by 14 again; and Henderson capped the wild flurry to end the quarter, catching a 53-yard touchdown pass from Woods with 1:50 still left in the period to make it 35-28 heading to the fourth.

ECU appeared to take control of the game when Goolsby made a spectacular diving, over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone to put the Tigers up 42-28 in the opening minute of the final period, but Northeasern again roared back to score in less than two minutes — this time on a 47-yard pass from Woods to Byers at the 12:01 mark.

The Tigers again had an answer, driving 60 yards to Maldanado’s third score of the game, a one-yard dive with 8:34 to play to make it 49-35. That two-touchdown lead quickly turned into a seven-point advantage just four plays later, however, when, after being sacked by Xerxes Griffin and Madison on the first two plays of the series, Woods hit Trey McVay for 13 yards on third-and-28 and saw the play turn into a first down when ECU was flagged for a late hit out of bounds. Woods then found Henderson for the final 45 yards with 6:38 still to play.

ECU appeared to have finally put the Riverhawks away when Tait Langston recovered a McKinney fumble at the Tiger 8 with just 1:37 remaining to kill a promising drive that began when Curtis Mayfield picked off a Johnson pass at the ECU 47 with 3:01 to play.

After the turnover, the Tigers ran three plays to use up almost all of the remaining time and punted, but McVay returned Justin Freshour’s short, line-drive punt to the ECU 30 with 17 second remaining to give the Riverhawks a final chance to tie the game. Woods took advantage of the opportunity, hitting McVay down the middle for 20 yards to the 10, and, after rushing his offense up and spiking the ball with four seconds left, finding Byers, who outjumped ECU cornerback Gerett Burl in the left front corner of the end zone for the game-tying score.