Peyton Graham saw the ball on the ground, looked up and knew there was nothing but 50 yards of open field. The Poplarville defender swooped in on the stripped ball and without anyone around him raced about 50 yards for a touchdown. The scoop’n’score ended up being a turning point in the Hornets’ 42-31 win at St. Stanislaus on Friday night.
With the win, PHS goes on the road to play Purvis in the third round of the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs.
“They’re a good football team,” PHS coach Jay Beech said. “They made some plays and were fighting for their lives and we made some plays and were fighting for our lives.
“That’s playoff football.”
Although SSC (6-6) scored first on a Jake Greer 54-yard run, Poplarville (12-0) responded with a 1-yard run by Graham and the first of three scores from sophomore running back Cory Knight; this one from 7 yards out to go ahead 14-7. With 1:03 remaining in the half, Graham gave the Hornets the added 28-13 breathing room it needed going into halftime.
“I made the statement earlier that turnovers would be the difference. They had zero and we had one, but the one was huge,” SSC coach Jeff Jordan said. “If we don’t put the ball on the ground, I feel like we still have a chance.”
In the second half, Poplarville would go on long, plodding drives, devouring valuable clock. SSC, in turn, was able to strike back in only a handful of plays but was never able to get back ahead of the Hornets.
“I was really proud of the way they responded in the second half. We made some halftime adjustments and came out and played really well,” Jordan said. “I felt like they couldn’t stop our second half adjustments, but we couldn’t get the ball back. We couldn’t get off the field.
“That wing-T is a machine. It’s a friggin’ machine. When you have players and run that offense as well as they do it’s tough to stop.”
Austin Bolton opened the second half scoring with an 8-yard run and finished with 95 yards on 19 carries, but it was Knight who stole the offensive performance for PHS. The young running back added touchdown runs of 17 and 2 yards in the second half to finish with 152 yards and three scores.
“I didn’t really expect nothing. I just got out and tried my hardest. I was nervous, I’m not going to lie,” Knight said. “This was my first experience coming into the game play in the playoffs as a sophomore. I started to get a little nervous in the beginning, but I told myself I just have to go with it, so I just went with it.”
Heading into the game, Beech said he had a hunch Knight might come up big for the Hornets.
“He’s a talented running back and good at what he does,” Beech said. “Everyone tries to take Bolton away. They overload where they think he might be running it, so that opens up other areas.”
Greer finished the game 9 of 18 passing for 111 yards with second half touchdown throws to J.D. Rutherford and Andrew Trapani for 13 and 11 yards respectively. He also rushed for 1- and 21-yard scores in the second half to give SSC a shot.
“I’m proud of these guys and these seniors. Nobody gave us a chance to get to the second round,” Jordan said. “Nobody even gave us a chance to get to the playoffs this year so I’m proud of what they did.”