Encircled by friends, family and admirers, East Central star running back Tony Brown stood on the field with smiling eyes and a full heart Friday night after his team’s win at Poplarville.
If there was anything to be done to help his team advance to its first state title game, Brown did it in the Class 4A South State championship.
Brown accounted for nearly 450 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns as East Central (13-0) held off a determined Poplarville squad 52-45 for the Class 4A South State championship.
“There’s a lot of joy right now,” Brown said. “I’m trying to hold back tears. It’s great. We’re going to Oxford.
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“Every kid dreams of this. It’s amazing.”
East Central will play Noxubee County (10-4) at 3 p.m. on Dec. 2 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford for the Class 4A state championship.
While Brown punched it in the end zone eight times from relatively short distance last week at South Pike, his scores came via the big play and in different ways against Poplarville. He had two kickoff returns of about 90 yards and a 64-yard touchdown reception on the first snap from scrimmage for the Hornets.
“I would be the worst college coach in America because how in the world that kid ain’t got a D-1 scholarship blows my mind,” East Central coach Seth Smith said. “I don’t know what else you do. He’s phenomenal. I told him Walter Payton, they said he was small, it turned out pretty good for him. Hopefully, it will work out good for Tony.”
Brown ran 17 times for 201 yards and had the one reception for 64 yards.
He has always had the reputation of being a fast runner, but he seemed to find an extra gear as he outran a quick Poplarville secondary on a 90-yarder to give East Central a 21-7 lead with 3:53 left in the first half.
“All week coach said the one guy that can probably catch me is (Poplarville defensive back D.J. Travis) and I didn’t want that to happen,” Brown said.
While Brown came out on the winning side Friday night, Poplarville senior Austin Bolton had nothing to be ashamed of. He ran 22 times for 246 yards and three touchdowns, including a 79-yarder just before the half to cut the East Central lead to 35-21 at halftime.
The points didn’t come as easily for East Central in the second half, mainly because Poplarville did a better job of holding onto the ball after fumbling it away twice in the first half.
Poplarville (13-1) had a pair of successful onside kicks in the second half with the second one setting up a 50-yard touchdown run by Bolton to tie the game at 45-45 with 3:34 remaining.
The third and final onside kick try didn’t work out as East Central recovered the ball following the Bolton touchdown.
A 38-yard run by Cameron Gray helped set up Brown for his final touchdown of the night from 3 yards out to give East Central a 52-45 lead 1:53 left.
“Tony Brown is unbelievable,” Poplarville coach Jay Beech said. “And our guy (Bolton) is great. He’s right there with him. Two outstanding football players. Two of the best I’ve seen. I’m glad he’s graduating; I wish ours was coming back.”
After ralling from down 42-21 early in the third quarter to tie it up, Poplarville couldn’t come up with one more big play. Poplarville turned it over on downs following Brown’s final score to allow East Central to run out the clock for its first ever 4A South State championship.
“Thank God, all things are possible,” Smith said. “These kids are a tribute to hard work, effort and attitude. They believe. They play with a faith, They don’t doubt that these things are possible at a place where people didn’t think you could. They’re doing it. I can’t say enough about our kids, our community. Look at all the people around us. It’s unbelievable. It’s a rare moment that you want to cherish the rest of your life.