Laurel put on a show in the second half at Lee-Triplett Stadium Friday night to claim the Class 5A South State title.
Laurel scored 35 unanswered points in the final two quarters to end Picayune's season, 45-27, and set up a 5A state title match with West Point at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Starkville.
Picayune entered halftime with a 27-10 lead and all the momentum, but it was Laurel who took the field in the second half with the swagger.
“I knew they were a good football team, but we had them right where we wanted them,” Picayune coach Dodd Lee said.
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Lee lamented his decision to go for it 4th and 1 in Picayune territory on the Maroon Tide's first possession of the second half. The try came up short and Laurel followed with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Tyquan Ulmer to Dontario Drummond to cut the Picayune lead to 27-17 with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
“I ran what I thought was our best football play,” Lee said. “I knew they were getting momentum. I didn't think it would matter if we kicked to them or not. We didn't get it and I think that decision opened the door for them. I've got to take responsibility, but I really believed we could do it.”
The Laurel defense got penetration in the Picayune backfield for much of the second half, slowing down the Maroon Tide rushing attack.
Picayune senior running back Josh Littles entered the break with 12 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown. He was was held to just 23 carries on 10 carries in the second half.
While the Laurel defense was steady getting stops, Ulmer proved tough to handle for the Maroon Tide.
He struggled early, missing on his first five pass attempts of the game. The senior recovered to complete 14 of 22 passes for 211 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Ulmer also ran 12 times for 81 yards and one touchdown.
“In the first half, he was kind of shaky,” Laurel coach Todd Breland said. “I don't know if it was nerves. Our team doesn't normally play tight and we we were in the first half, kind of shaky at some things.
“(Ulmer) stayed calm and the other kids fed off him at halftime. He's been making plays all year, but the way he handled this football team tonight was outstanding.”
Picayune (12-2) appeared to be in trouble early in the game when senior quarterback Skylar Bowman was stripped of the ball on the game's first possession. The Picayune defense stood tall after the mistake holding Laurel to a short field goal by Harris Hauenstein.
Picayune followed with 20 straight points – a 4-yard touchdown run by David Baker, a 33-yard touchdown pass from Bowman to V.J. Holt and a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Shaun Anderson.
Laurel (13-1) finally got in the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown toss from Ulmer to Drummond to cut the Picayune lead to 20-10 with 3:47 left in the second quarter.
Picayune again regained the momentum when Littles ran 11 yards for a touchdown with 25.7 seconds left in the first half.
The Laurel defense proved much tougher in the second half, but Breland said his staff made no major changes.
“I don't think either team changed anything tonight,” Brelans said. “They made more plays in the first hand and we made more in the second half. It was an outstanding football game. Picayune is a great team. Coach Lee and his program's body of work speaks for itself. To come down here and grab one in Picayune is special.”
Picayune started only five seniors this year and that youth should bode well for the future.
There were plenty of tears in the post-game huddle for the Maroon Tide.
“I told our seniors that we loved them,” Lee said. “They've accomplished a lot.”