The Pearl River Wildcats rode a stout defensive effort that forced six turnovers and turned away the Bobcats twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter in a 30-23 victory Saturday afternoon at Bobcat Stadium.
The victory kept PRCC’s playoff hopes alive in the South Division at 2-2 in division play. The Wildcats (2-5 overall) control their own destiny with games remaining against Mississippi Gulf Coast and Copiah-Lincoln to close the regular season.
“It was absolutely a team win today,” said Pearl River coach David Saunders. “We challenged the defense this week on turnovers. It was a point of emphasis and we saw the results.”
The Wildcats had to overcome plenty of adversity, beginning with the first snap of the game. Quarterback Andrew Dunn bobbled the snap right into the hands of Bobcat defensive end Marques Ford, who rumbled 10 yards for a touchdown.
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However, the kick for the conversion was missed, and the Wildcats took the lead midway through the second quarter after recovering a muffed punt at the Bobcat 23-yard-line.
After a 1-yard loss, Timothy Arnold hit Matthew Eaton for a 23-yard pass play to the Bobcat 1, and on fourth down Arnold found Cameron Bolton for a 1-yard scoring play.
JCJC scored the next 10 points, on a 20-yard touchdown run by DeShawn Smith, plus a two-point conversion, and a safety when Arnold was sacked in the end zone, one of eight sacks by the Bobcat defense.
But the tide started turning after Jones got the ball at the Wildcat 45 after the free kick with 1:14 to play in the first half. On the first play, Joe Wlliams picked off Mason Blocker’s pass, and the half ended with JCJC leading 16-7.
And the third quarter belonged to the Wildcats, especially their defense, which got three picks and a fumble on JCJC’s next four possessions.
“We talk every week about doing what we have to do to help the offense out, and today was a day we had to do that,” said Wildcat freshman linebacker Leonard LeBranch. “We had to make plays to get our offense the ball in good field position.”
The Wildcats weren’t able to do anything with the first turnover of the second half, an interception by Tyler Jack, but the next one, a pickoff by Daylon Burks, resulted in a 48-yard field goal by Mark Johnson.
“Special teams today was huge for us,” Saunders said. “Getting that field goal was big, and the punting and our kickoff coverage today was outstanding.”
Indeed, Johnson, a freshman from Bay High, punted seven times for a 46-yard average.
PRCC took the lead for good after stopping the Bobcats on a fumble recovery by Randy Hogan Jr. at the Pearl River 24.
The Wildcats marched 60 yards on nine plays, scoring on a 26-yard pass play from Arnold to Jay Banks Jr., who made a sensational one-handed grab for the touchdown. Johnson’s kick made it 17-16 with 3:18 to play in the quarter.
“I saw my quarterback roll out of the pocket,” Banks said. “He was pointing at me to go back. I thought he overthrew it, but I came back and caught it.”
Zhaunte McElroy stuck a dagger in the Bobcats’ heart by jumping a route on a third-down play and returning the pick 18 yards for a TD.
Jones then held the ball for 7:25, ran 16 plays – all runs – and drove to the Wildcat 11, before Tazedrik Meeks blew up a fourth-down play for a 3-yard loss.
Taking over at the Wildcat 14, PRCC needed just two runs by Darious Leggett, of 17 and 69 yards, to score and make it 30-16. Leggett, the nation’s leading running back, finished with 135 yards on 25 carries.