The Poplarville football team's historic postseason run doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The Hornets thrashed Mendenhall 60-12 on the road Friday night behind a potent ground game and an opportunistic defense.
Poplarville (11-1) will host Florence in the 4A South State title game this upcoming Friday. If the Hornets win, they will earn the program's first ever trip to the state championship contest.
“This is the best football we've played all season and we're ready to go to South State and win that,” Poplarville junior running back Austin Bolton said with a broad grin.
Poplarville gained 300 yards on offense in the first half and a held 40-6 lead at halftime, putting the game well out of reach for a Mendenhall team that stunned two-time defending Class 4A South State champion St. Stanislaus 30-22 in double overtime last week.
Poplarville has won 11 consecutive games after losing the season opener 35-14 at St. Martin.
Poplarville relied on a three-pronged rushing attack Friday with junior Austin Bolton, senior Jesse Pernell and sophomore Tylson Holston all scoring multiple touchdowns.
Pernell ran 12 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Bolton had nine carries for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Holston ran five times for 104 yards and two touchdowns and also had a 58-yard touchdown reception.
No matter who had the ball in his hands, the Hornets ran through gaping holes in the Mendenhall defense all night long.
“As soon as I hit the hole my mouth dropped and I knew it was a touchdown,” Pernell said with a laugh.
After watching film of the Mendenhall defense, Poplarville head coach Jay Beech was confident his offense could move the ball well on the Tigers.
“They were a good matchup for us,” Beech said. “When they played St. Stanislaus, they could just pin their ears back and go. Against us, you've got to be a little more disciplined. We were able to take advantage of that.”
The Poplarville defense frustrated Mendenhall all night, forcing five turnovers. The Hornets set the tone early when Holston recovered a fumble by Mendenhall quarterback Quantavian Dampeer on the second snap of the game.
Two plays later, Pernell ran 22 yards up the middle for the game's opening score to make it 7-0 at the 10:40 mark of the first quarter.
Mendenhall (8-6) answered on the following possession when Dampeer hit a wide open Malik Bethea for a 57-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-6, but the game turned into a Poplarville rout the rest of the way.
Poplarville led 27-6 after the first quarter.
“Everything just happened to go our way,” Beech said. “We got off to a great start and that's what we really needed against a team like this. Everything went our way offensively. The kids executed great. We jumped out to an early lead and never looked back.”
Poplarville didn't have to rely on sophomore quarterback Antonio Barnes much, but he was effective when called upon. He hit 2 of 3 passes for 72 yards, including the 58-yard touchdown pass to Holston.
One of the five turnovers forced by Poplarville was an interception in the second half by senior cornerback Aritaeus Johnson, who has nine interceptions this season.
Poplarville was able to pull its starters late in the third quarter and junior running back Chris Fowler scored a touchdown on a 51-yard run with 6:26 remaining.