Behind a 334-yard performance for Poplarville’s rushing attack, the Hornets took down Purvis 38-6 to claim the Region 7-4A title
Junior Austin Bolton led the way with 187 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and senior Jesse Pernell added 133 yards on the ground and two scores on 18 attempts.
“It feels outstanding,” Poplarville head coach Jay Beech said of the district championship. “Anything we thought we needed to do to win the game, we ended up doing.”
The Hornets dominated from start to finish, holding the Tornadoes to just 16 yards of total offense through the first two quarters. By halftime, Poplarville led 28-0 and had complete control of the game.
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Purvis is known for its big offensive line, and Poplarville held Purvis’ junior running back John Bolton to just 55 yards on 18 carries. As a team, Purvis only gained 64 rushing yards.
“We were concerned about that going in, and I think we handled our own pretty well tonight,” Beech said. “You have to give Purvis a lot of credit, they’re well coached and have a very good football team. Tonight was just our night, though.”
Poplarville began the game with a five-play, 65-yard drive in less than two minutes. After Austin Bolton’s would-be 64-yard touchdown was called back because of a block in the back, sophomore quarterback Antonio Barnes found sophomore receiver Tyson Holston for a 21-yard gain, then Pernell rushed for 25 yards to set up a first-and-goal situation from the 3-yard line.
Pernell punched it in on the next play.
“That was big, very big,” Beech said. “We had to overcome some penalties in that drive, as well. My kids just fought really hard, they were determined and I’m just very proud of them.”
Purvis had its chances, though. After going three-and-out on its first possession, Purvis’ C.J. Bolar recovered a Poplarville fumble on the Tornado 39-yard line. Purvis spun its wheels, and couldn’t gain a first down.
Later in the first quarter, Purvis stopped Poplarville on a fourth-and-1 on its own 32-yard line. Beech said after the game he felt so confident in his defense that he knew he could afford to roll the dice.
It worked because Purvis went three-and-out.
“We had some field position early, but we just couldn’t do anything with it,” Purvis head coach Perry Wheat said. “Their linebackers made some plays. We just weren’t getting to the linebackers and they were getting to us and tackling.”
When the Hornets got the ball back they traveled 79 yards on eight plays, but 58 of those came on one play — a Barnes to Holston connection to give the visitors a 14-0 lead.
Pernell added a 20-yard score on Poplarville’s next drive, and Bolton added the fourth touchdown with three minutes left in the half, as he scampered in from the Tornado 34-yard line.
“Give them credit,” Wheat said. “They have a real fine ball club and they executed real well. They just really outplayed us tonight in really all phases of the game. We could have done better.”
The Tornadoes came out of the locker with some fire, as they put together their best drive of the night to cut the lead to 28-6. On fourth-and-11 from the Hornets’ 31, senior Conner Cook found Bolar open near the right pylon for the score.
“Well, we did have a little burst right there, but we never maintained anything consistently throughout the night,” Wheat said. “… We made a few plays there on draws and things like that, but you have to be able to run the football on base plays, too.”
Purvis held Poplarville to a three-and-out, but the offense couldn’t get rolling throughout the rest of the game. The Hornets added a 23-yard field to start the fourth quarter, then Bolton scored from midfield a couple of minutes later to put the game away.
Purvis (6-3, 3-1) will travel to Forrest County AHS next week, with the winner earning the second seed in the 4A playoffs, and Poplarville (7-1, 4-0) will host Columbia.