PASCAGOULA - Gautier and Pascagoula played a football game Friday night, but the final score was meaningless due to news of the deaths of two men prominent in both communities.
Mississippi State linebacker Keith Joseph Jr., a former Pascagoula and Gautier football player, and his father were killed in a single-car accident Friday afternoon.
The players and coaches found out as soon as they gathered after Pascagoula’s 17-9 win.
Immediately after he was informed of the news, Pascagoula head coach Lewis Sims struggled to speak.
“He was a vital part of our program,” a tearful Sims said.
The father and son were on their way to attend Friday’s Gautier-Pascagoula game when the accident occurred, according to a statement from Mississippi State.
The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado they were traveling in left the road and flipped multiple times on Mississippi 57 near Leakesville, according to the Greene County Herald.
The report says that the accident happened on a long, straight stretch of the 4-lane highway between Rounsaville Road and the intersection of Old Hwy. 57.
The report went into the details of the accident: It appears the vehicle veered off the roadway briefly onto the grass median before coming back onto the highway, going into a roll as it crossed back over the southbound lanes before coming to a stop just inside the tree line off the state right of way.
Both men were wearing their seatbelts, according to the report. The younger Joseph was ejected from the vehicle.
The two men were pronounced dead on the scene about 3:30 p.m. by Greene County Coroner Ladd Pulliam.
A Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesperson told the paper that the cause of the accident was under investigation. On Saturday, patrolmen were at the scene of the accident to gather more information. A spokesman said officials will release a full report as soon as it is available.
Keith Joseph Jr. followed in the footsteps of his father, transferring from Gautier High School to Pascagoula High before his junior season.
Keith Joseph Sr. was a star football player as a linebacker at Pascagoula and Mississippi State.
Coaches and players on the Pascagoula and Gautier football teams knew both men well. Players were extremely distraught and fans looked on in disbelief as the news spread.
“It put things in perspective. It is just a game,” Gautier coach Chris Peterson said. “Both of us are very saddened by this event. He started out a Gautier Gator and played for us in ninth and 10th grade. He transferred to Pascagoula and played his junior and senior years there. We loved him. To find this out after two rivals left their heart and guts on the field, everybody is now mourning this loss. We’re just devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are obviously with the Joseph family. It’s a very, very sad event. It kind of puts the game in perspective with what matters most in life.
“Football is very important and we knew him as a result of football. Both teams, both schools loved him as a person first and foremost. We’re very saddened to hear this. We’re just devastated at the moment.”
Keith Joseph Jr. was in his first year at Mississippi State and was sitting out the season to receive a redshirt.
MSU released a statement late Friday night after the news broke.
“We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the tragic loss of Keith Jr. and his father,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “Keith had such a promising future as a Bulldog following in the legacy started by Keith Sr., who played for our program 25 years ago. Keith was a great student, a hard worker and a great teammate to all of us. With heavy hearts, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Joseph family, our entire Mississippi State community and all of the lives these Bulldogs touched.”
“Words can’t express the sorrow we feel by having lost not one, but two members of the Bulldog family, father and son,” Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said. “I was a classmate of Keith Sr., and took pride in having Keith Jr. follow in his dad’s footsteps at MSU. They will both be missed greatly. It’s such a tragic reminder that life is a precious and every day is a gift from God.”
Keith Jr. signed with the Bulldogs last February and was receiving a redshirt as a true freshman this year. Keith Sr. ranks 10th all-time in MSU history with 14 sacks.
Funeral arrangements are pending.