No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast won its 16th MACJC South title Thursday by beating No. 6 Hinds 31-21 in Raymond Thursday, but it was by no means easy.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season a perfect 9-0 by rallying from its first deficits of the season.
“It’s hard to hold back the emotions,” Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. “I’m extremely proud of these young men and how hard they worked. I’m definitely happy.”
The Bulldogs will host a state semifinal at 7 p.m. on Saturday against an opponent to be determined. The North No. 2 seed will visit A.L. May Memorial Stadium, but that division has three teams tied for first with a 4-2 record: Northwest, Itawamba and Holmes. The second-seed will be East Mississippi if the Lions beat Northeast on Saturday to make it a four-way tie. If EMCC loses, Itawamba will be the second-seed.
Gulf Coast trailed quickly Thursday when the Eagles struck on a 50-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the game.
“There was never any real sense of panic,” Wright said. “There was no real sense of surprise. The surprise is we haven’t been behind before. This is a tough league, so going behind in this league is no surprise. Hinds was really playing for their life. They had to win to make the playoffs, and they’re a very good football team playing at their place. There’s no surprise that they played really well and put us behind early.”
The Bulldogs tied it up after Tijuane Bolton pounced on a fumble at the Hinds 34-yard line.
Two plays later, Chance Lovertich found Jalen Bracey in the end zone for a diving, one-handed catch for a 20-yard score.
Hinds nearly took a lead after a long drive ended when Maleik Gray picked off a Hinds pass in the end zone.
Gulf Coast took a 10-7 lead on a 23-yard field goal early in the second quarter, but Hinds quickly answered on a 20-yard Don Ragsdale touchdown run with 7:37 to play in the half.
The Bulldogs’ second deficit of the year didn’t last long. After Hinds kicked off out of bounds, Omni Wells immediately ran 65 yards for a 17-14 lead.
Jackie Matthews got the second interception two plays later, and Shaun Anderson scored from two yards to cap a 14-play, 57-yard drive and make it 24-14 going into halftime.
“We made some adjustments,” Wright said. “Coach (Brett) Shufelt, you have to give him a lot of credit. He made some adjustments. We had a Plan B ready to go, and that got called a little bit more than you’d expect. That’s a very talented group, and they made a lot of negative plays and a lot of takeaways.”
The offensive line came out of the locker room and dominated the first drive of the second half. The Bulldogs ran nearly seven minutes off the clock, going 16 plays and 65 yards. Deondre House punctuated it with a 4-yard scoring run to make it 31-14. Ten of the plays were runs.
“We were imposing our will,” offensive lineman Hayden Burton said. “We were coming off the ball and playing physical.”
Hinds scored with 3:19 left, but Gulf Coast recovered an onside kick and later stopped one last drive thanks to a Navonteque Strong sack. He recovered a fumble on the final Hinds play to ice the victory.
“It feels great,” he said. “We came in with a bunch of guys who wanted to play strong and be humble.”
Gulf Coast piled up 487 total yards, 276 of which came on the ground. Wells led the way with 104 yards on just nine carries, with Austin Bolton adding 95 yards.
Lovertich completed 19 of 32 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown. Jymetre Hester had seven receptions for 68 yards.
PRCC wins season finale
Sophomore Night went down to the wire Thursday with Pearl River making enough big plays in the end to clinch a 24-19 victory over visiting Mississippi Delta at Dobie Holden Stadium.
“It was a tough fought game. They’re a tough team,” Pearl River head coach Ted Egger said. “They came off a big win last week and we knew they were going to be tough in the second half because that’s how they’ve been all year.
“It came down to the end but I’ll take it every time. A win’s a win.”
In Egger’s final game as head coach, the Wildcats finished the season 3-6.
Delta (3-6 overall) scored with 4:13 remaining on a 31-yard pass and then forced PRCC to punt with just under a minute remaining. The Trojans aired a pass out down the middle but sophomore cornerback Jabari Coston (Independence, La.; Loranger) plucked the ball out of the air to seal the victory.
PRCC QB Terrence Humphrey completed 11 of 17 passes for 137 yards. D.D. Griffin broke loose for 105 yards on 26 carries, eclipsing his previous career-high of 94 yards against Southwest. T.J. Wash nearly had a career-high of his own, rushing for 62 yards, 18 shy of his high-water mark.
Jaylan Wilson and Juan Nelson were PRCC’s go-to receivers, hauling in three passes apiece. Nelson had a team-high 44 yards; Wilson added 39.
Kobe Cole led PRCC with nine tackles. Noah Mitchell chipped in seven. Zeke Chapman was active in Delta’s backfield. He finished the game with four tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss. Cole also had two tackles for negative yardage.