The scene on the field Friday night at Harrison Central is hard to describe -- but I'll give it a go all the same.
As the final horn sounded on the Red Rebels' 28-24 win over then-No. 2 Ocean Springs, the students poured onto the field and blended with their football brethren.
HCHS has come a long way in the past five months -- as Friday's celebration showed.
With the addition of new coach Casey Cain, the Red Rebels opened the offense from a run heavy team to a spread-to-run type of scheme.
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At first the results were mixed. The completions weren't there and the Red Rebels opened the season 0-3.
If you look at their passing attempts as the season progressed, the more the Red Rebels reeled in the passing attack, the better they played. And once they reached region play, the Red Rebels had found their groove.
2. Just in time
HCHS picked up its first win in Week 4 against Pearl River Central -- the only blemish on the Blue Devils' regular season. The Red Rebels proceeded to give George County its first loss of the season two weeks later.
The Red Rebels rode a two-game winning streak into the final weekend of the season, but even a 4-2 region record didn't guarantee them anything. Of the four possible scenarios, one had HCHS sitting at second in Region 4-6A. Another had them missing the playoffs all together. (As it turns out, because D'Iberville rallied to beat St. Martin, if HCHS had lost, the Red Rebels would have finished fifth.)
Nothing was a given, but the Red Rebels battled. The two teams traded shots, but in the end Harrison Central sealed the victory -- and the 4-6A second seed -- with a big sack on fourth down inside the Red Rebels' red zone.
"These kids fight hard and they're starting to believe," Cain said. "I believe we have the best defensive front on the Coast. I saw unbelievable effort and penetration. The D-line has been our thing all year."
3. Second seed
When the game finally ended, the Red Rebels knew they were in the playoffs, but their seed was still up in the air. Public address announcer, Jimmy Spears, stated he would update the fans once the D'Iberville-St. Martin game went final.
As I interviewed Cain on the field, with players and students bumping into us in the midst of celebrating -- some running around with oversized cardboard cutouts of the players heads -- the speakers clicked on one last time.
Cain paused mid thought.
"D'Iberville has held on to defeat St. Martin, 34-33," Spears' voice echoed over the speakers.
The smile that immediately appeared on Cain's face said it all. He was quite literally speechless -- but Cain didn't need to say much at that moment.
To go from 0-3 to winning their final three games was a great finish to the regular season -- but the
Red Rebels aren't done.
They'll open the Class 6A playoffs at home against Petal on Friday.
4. No easy outs
The open of the Class 6A playoffs paint a difficult picture. There won't be any easy outs in the South as D'Iberville must travel to 10-win Brandon; Ocean Springs must travel to nine-win Oak Grove; HCHS hosts the only Mississippi team to beat Gulfport in 2015; and Gulfport, congratulations for winning 4-6A, you now get to host a Meridian team (6-5 overall) that has current commitments to Alabama (DT Raekwon Davis), Vanderbilt (DB Zaire Jones), Florida (DB Quincy Lenton), Louisiana Tech (DT Julius Turner) and a fifth senior standout, receiver Daniel Crowell, who was previously committed to Ole Miss.
It's hard to predict who will come out of the South in 6A, although I've learned the hard way this season not to bet against Gulfport and Harrison Central. In Class 5A, the Coast's teams could see some first-round success with Pascagoula playing four-win Brookhaven and Pearl River Central playing four-win Natchez. Picayune draws a tougher opponent in Wayne County (8-3).
5. Record-breaking season
The season didn't go quite like the Bearcats had hoped, but Long Beach senior Kevin Wayne Jr. certainly left a lasting mark on the program.
Wayne passed Mississippi State standout Richie Brown's career tackles mark (522) earlier in the season and finished with 587 by year's end. With Friday's 17-tackle performance at West Harrison, Wayne finished his senior season with 213, eclipsing Brown's single-season mark of 209. Not bad company for Wayne considering Brown is among the SEC's tackle leaders.
During MSU's bye week, Brown came back to Long Beach to watch Wayne and the Bearcats against Stone -- the senior only made 21 tackles on senior night. Now that Wayne owns Brown's biggest school records, curious what the next meeting between old pals will be like.
6. Gone too young
For the longest time, Sun Herald photographer John Fitzhugh's signing day picture of "The Pascagoula Three" was my computer's wallpaper.
It's one of my favorite photos from my couple of years at the Sun Herald. Jaylen Smith in his red flat-bill Louisville hat, Jauan Collins in a black button down shirt and gold tie and Keith Joseph Jr. decked out in maroon, with Pascagoula High's flag displayed behind them. Fitzhugh caught the three, having just signed with Louisville, Southern Miss and Mississippi State, in mid-laugh. A perfect photo to celebrate one of the biggest days of their young lives.
I'd interviewed Smith a few times since moving from news to the sports department, but never had the opportunity to meet or interview Joseph. When news began to spread Friday night of Joseph's death, my mind immediately went to that photo, which is how I think a lot of folks want to remember Joseph -- smiling. A perfect photo to remember a bright young man who was taken too soon.
7. You're just too darn loud
Kudos to Gulf Coast's Band of Gold on Saturday at the MACJC championship game in Senatobia. The game didn't end up like the Bulldogs would have liked, but the band definitely showed up. They were loud and even had the home fans digging the halftime performance on a wet and otherwise miserable day.
The Band of Gold tends to push the envelope a bit when it comes to not playing while the opposition's offense is at the line of scrimmage, but when they do, man they're loud.
At least two times during Saturday's game at Northwest the head official had to run over to the band flapping his arms up and down for the goldest band in the land to shush. I couldn't help but think of Huey Lewis' cameo in the first "Back to the Future," where he tells Michael J. Fox's band, "I'm afraid you're just too darn loud."
If the official had a megaphone it would have been perfect.
8. UAB recruiting
The UAB Blazers picked up literally the biggest recruit in their 2016 signing class with the addition of Gulf Coast offensive lineman Brandon Hill. The former Alabama lineman, generously listed at 6-foot-5 and 395 pounds, reportedly committed to the Blazers this weekend -- although it doesn't appear he's talked to the media. The only confirmations seem to be Hill's Twitter account retweeting a report, and the following tweet from UAB coach Bill Clark: "The Family just got a whole lot bigger!! #WTD #theReturn."
UAB has pulled in several interesting commitments, like former LSU linebacker Clifton Garrett (at Arizona Western C.C.) and defensive tackle Maquedius Bain (at Pearl River C.C.). What had me puzzled is why kids would commit to UAB when they won't officially take the field until the 2017 season. Here's what Clark told the Macon Telegraph following the Macon Touchdown Club meeting on Tuesday:
"We really feel like there's a niche for these guys where maybe they're coming off of an injury or (need) to get their academics straight or just a junior college graduate so we think we're a good fit for those guys," he said.
Clark said the program will target high school kids for its 2017 class.
9. The (Other) Patrick's Picks
For entertainment purposes ... Vanderbilt (-3 1/2, according to MGM Resorts International) put up a hell of a fight against the SEC East champion Florida. Kentucky isn't Florida, but its had a more potent offense until recently. 'Dores by 7, why not. ... Alabama (-7 1/2) really stuck it to LSU at home on Saturday. MSU's last win over Alabama came in 2007 -- and 2006. The Tide is on a mission I don't think anyone will stop right now. Love Dak Prescott and what he has done, but Saturday will be all Alabama. Tide by 14. ... Two things: I don't expect Arkansas (+8) to score at will against the Tigers. Also, we'll see what an angry Leonard Fournette can do against an overmatched Arkansas defense -- I have a feeling the Hogs won't like Fournette when he's angry. If Ole Miss rushed for 222 yards against Arkansas, what will the Tigers do? Tigers by 14. ... So, with the pressure off, is Auburn's Jeremy Johnson coming around? Is Jovon Robinson now going to be the RB I thought he could be heading into the season? The Dawgs (+ 1 1/2) are wounded. I'll take the Tigers by 10. ... Saturday's two-point victory wasn't pretty for Florida (-7 1/2), but VU has a solid defense. Rudderless South Carolina does not. Florida by 21.
As always, thanks for reading.
Patrick Ochs, a Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at PatrickOchs.