LAUREL - A talented Laurel passing attack led the way as the Golden Tornadoes beat Pascagoula, 35-0, Friday night in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Laurel will host rival Wayne County Friday in the Class 5A South State title game while Pascagoula's emotional season comes to a close with a 9-3 record.
Laurel quarterback Keon Howard completed 14-of-27 passes for 250 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions to lead the Golden Tornadoes (10-3). He also nine times for 41 yards and a touchdown.
The Golden Tornadoes are in pursuit of their second consecutive 5A state championship.
"They want to finish what they started," Laurel coach Todd Breland said. "They want to be the first (Laurel team) in history to go back to back and it's a goal they set for themselves. They're doing what they have to do to achieve it."
For Pascagoula, it was the end of a season that included injuries to several key players and the biggest blow of all came the day of the regular season finale when former Panther greats Keith Joseph Jr. and his father died in an automobile accident on Nov. 6.
"It's a great group of young men," Pascagoula coach Lewis Sims said. "I've been watching them grow and mature. It's incredible after what they've gone through. You cherish every moment."
Howard, a Memphis commit, hooked up with Dontario Drummond twice on touchdown passes in the first half.
Howard hit Drummond on a 17-yard touchdown toss at the 6:57 mark of the first quarter and found him again for a 15-yard scoring pass with 7:26 left in the half to make it 14-0.
Pascagoula senior Cameron Shoemo intercepted Howard with less than a minute left in the first half to set the Panthers up at the Laurel 30, but Pascagoula couldn't take advantage of the opportunity.
Senior quarterback Jakwaize Walker was tackled inside the Laurel 5 as time ran out in the first half.
Shoemo's interception was one of three significant first-half breaks for the Panthers, including the recovery of an onside kick on the opening kickoff and an interception by Jordan Mims. Pascagoula, which had three failed field goal attempts in the first half, didn't take advantage of its opportunities when it had them.
"Everything was going our way on defense," Pascagoula senior athlete Jakwaize Walker said. "We just couldn't punch it in."
Laurel began to pull away in the third quarter when Howard hit Octavious Cooley, an Ole Miss commit, on a 60-yard touchdown toss over the middle to make it 21-0 at the 3:18 mark of the third quarter..
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Cooley proved tough to bring down all night long with five catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Laurel added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, a 4-yard run by Howard and a 15-yard interception return for a score by Keyes Thakarius.
Walker led the Pascagoula offense with 90 yards rushing and had 38 yards on 5-of-15 passing.
"We had our opportunities and we fought all the way to the end," Sims said. "That's all you can ask for as a head coach. Our guys coached their tails off. Our players played their hearts out. They left everything out there.
"There's no doubt in my mind we played as hard as we can play. I'm proud of these young men as I can be. I coached them for four years. The guys we have coming back will be part of something special."