Gulf Coast’s Austin Bolton just didn’t want to lose.
Behind Bolton’s running in the fourth quarter and a stiff defense, the top-ranked Bulldogs (11-0) held on to defeat fourth-ranked Northwest 22-19 to claim the MACJC State Championship at Bobby Franklin Field on Saturday afternoon.
It’s the Bulldogs’ sixteenth state title in school history and first since 2012. Gulf Coast will now advance to the NJCAA National Championship game in Pittsburg, Kansas on Dec. 5.
“We needed a big moment, so I gave it to them, and I put them on my back and that’s exactly what I did,” Bolton said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this. I love this team, we fought hard and I’d do anything for these guys.”
Trailing 19-14 to begin the fourth quarter, Bolton broke through at least four tacklers and dove into the end zone from 30 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 22-19 lead with 14:02 left in the game after a successful two-point conversion.
Bolton, a Poplarville native, had 77 yards rushing on 11 carries in the fourth quarter alone. He finished the game with 117 yards on 23 carries.
“I would’ve been really disappointed if this game didn’t end any other way,” said Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright. “I knew something was going to go down. Two really good teams going at it. We struggled running the ball all three quarters, but Austin Bolton made up his mind to carry us the rest of the game. On the touchdown run, he wasn’t going to be denied.”
Northwest struck first on a Jaquerrious Williams 1-yard touchdown run to give the Rangers a 7-0 lead with 11:23 left in the first quarter.
Gulf Coast tied it at 7-7 on a 6-yard pass from Chance Lovertich to Jymetre Hester with 7:06 left in the second quarter.
The Rangers responded on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Jack Walker to Jacoby Jones to regain the lead at 13-7 with 5:27 left in the first half.
The Bulldogs took a 14-13 lead when Lovertich found Hester again over the middle from 18 yards out with 9:12 left in the third quarter.
Northwest regained the at 19-14 on an 8-yard pass from Walker to Braden Smith with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
On Gulf Coast’s next drive, Bolton’s 30-yard touchdown one of three consecutive handoffs to the Poplarville native.
Northwest was forced to punt on its next two drives before turning the ball on downs with just over a minute left at their own 13. The defensive stand was highlighted by a sack by Gulf Coast’s Tre Lawson.
The Bulldog defense held Northwest to just 53 yards rushing and had three sacks. Lovertich finished the game 25 of 37 for 213 yards with two touchdowns.
“We knew we were playing a good team and we just had to do our job,” Lovertich said. “Bolton is one of the gutsiest dudes I’ve been around and when it’s crunch time he delivers. It means everything to win a state championship and now get to go play for a national championship.”
Walker led Northwest (8-3) with 190 yards passing.