There are five high school football teams remaining in the playoffs in South Mississippi and the most surprising of those is Hancock.
The Hawks (10-2) continued their dream season with a 30-27 victory over a talented Brandon squad Friday night in Kiln. The playoff win was the first by a Region 4-6A member since 2014 when D'Iberville and Ocean Springs made it out of the first round.
Another 4-6A team, Gulfport, pushed Meridian to overtime Friday night, but fell 21-14. Admirals head coach Eddie Pierce announced after the game that he is headed into retirement, capping off a career that also included a successful stint as the head coach at Jones County Junior College.
If you would have told folks before the season that it would be Hancock that would end 4-6A's run of futility in the postseason, few would have believed you. The Hawks finished in last place in the region a year ago, going 4-7 overall and just 1-6 in region play.
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The test gets tougher for Hancock this week with a road game at Pearl, which improved to 13-0 overall with a 55-14 victory over St. Martin in the first round of the playoffs. Pearl will be a heavy favorite on its home field, but the same Brandon team that Hancock beat Friday night pushed Pearl into overtime in a 28-27 game in the regular season finale.
Maybe the gap between Hancock and Pearl isn't all that wide.
The four other South Mississippi teams remaining in the playoffs are Stone High, Resurrection, Poplarville and East Central.
Picayune's elimination with a 42-35 loss to Laurel may have been the most shocking outcome in Class 5A on Friday night. A year after Laurel beat the Maroon Tide in the South State final, the Tornadoes again played the role of foil.
Stone High is the lone remaining South Mississippi team in 5A after scoring all 24 of its points in the second half to win 24-14 at West Jones. It is the first playoff win for Stone High since 1991.
The Tomcats (8-3) will play host to Hattiesburg (12-0) in the second round. The two teams met in Hattiesburg on Sept. 29 with the Tigers cruising to a 62-27 win.
I expect a much closer game this time around.
RCS back in the hunt
Resurrection is only 6-6, but don't discount the Eagles in the Class 1A South State race. The Eagles thumped a good French Camp team, 35-7, Friday night on the road.
RCS has a talented senior quarterback in Blake Porter and a solid batch of skill players. The emergence of senior running back Jerry Johnson, who has eight touchdowns in the last two games, has been a big boost.
Resurrection will play host to Lumberton (10-2) in the second round. RCS fell 26-22 at Lumberton on Oct. 20, but you have to give the Eagles the slight edge on their home field this week.
Hornets still standing
There's no surprise that East Central and Poplarville are the last two teams reamaining in Class 4A in South Mississippi. East Central rolled past West Lauderdale 52-6 Friday night while Poplarville pulled out a 42-31 win at St. Stanislaus.
East Central (11-0) will travel to South Pike (11-3) this week while Poplarville (12-0) will head to Purvis (6-6).
It still seems likely that we'll see the dream match-up of Poplarville and East Central in 4A South State title game.
East Central looks like a wrecking ball at the moment.
With the Hancock Hawks moving onto the next round, there's little doubt as to who deserves this week's Game Ball for the top coaching performance.
That goes to first-year Hancock head coach Neil Lollar, who has orchestrated one of the quickest turnarounds on the Coast in recent memory.
The odds are tall, but you can't count out Hancock at Pearl Friday night.