PERKINSTON - If No. 11 Gulf Coast was holding something back Saturday against its first-round opponent, the scoreboard didn't show it. The Bulldogs put in a dominating performance on homecoming, defeating Itawamba 38-7 at A.L. May Memorial Stadium.
"We're just going to take this just one day at a time and find any way possible to win," Gulf Coast coach Chad Huff said. "Proud of the efforts. The kids played hard. It wasn't clean, but I saw the team steadily getting better."
The game took a unique twist late last week when the MACJC ruled East Mississippi would be expelled from the league's playoffs after getting into a benches-clearing brawl at Mississippi Delta on Thursday. As a result, Northwest was awarded the No. 1 seed in the North and ICC was given the No. 2 spot and a first-round meeting back in Perkinston at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Heading into the game, ICC coach Sean Cannon said he wasn't quite sure what to expect from the playcalling on both sides with a meaningful rematch seven days away. Huff said the Bulldogs can still take a lot from the game, even if both teams kept the gameplan more vanilla than originally expected.
"Every game there's a ton to build from, just by our own efforts and our own playing and continuing to coach our guys to get better," Huff said. "Schemes and all that, I'm sure it may vary here and there next week."
Gulf Coast's defense forced two interceptions late and although ICC racked up 157 yards rushing and 227 passing, the Bulldogs (7-2 overall) clamped down once the Indians (5-4) crossed midfield.
"We didn't do very much tonight. There's a bunch more calls on this (play) sheet that didn't get called tonight," defensive coordinator Steve Davis said. "It's Jimmies and Joes, not X's and O's. I'm hoping they're on that bus with their head down, but our guys have to understand that if you snooze you lose now so you gotta go."
Cannon, who roomed with Huff at Delta State, expressed frustration his team was unable to complete drives.
"It was bad football by us," he said. "I told them we have to figure out if we really want this. Now we're all nothing-nothing and if we want to come back down here and give them a fight we're going to have to work this week in practice.
Quarterback A.J. Erdely led the offensive effort, completing 14 of 21 passes for 192. He hit running back Chris Robinson for a 24-yard strike in the first quarter to open the scoring. Early in the second quarter, Erdely connected with a wide open Ishmel Morrow over the middle for a 54-yard touchdown to put Gulf Coast ahead 14-0. Early in the third quarter Erdely and Robinson connected again, this time for a 39-yard touchdown on a wheel route down the home sideline.
"He was solid. He made good decisions and set some protections for us," Huff said. "Two of his touchdown throws were with guys coming in his face and took some shots, but he got rid of the football.
"He showed a lot of poise today."
Kicker Joshua Rowland also booted a 37-yard field goal to put Gulf Coast ahead 31-7 late in the third quarter.
Southern Miss commit and Itawamba quarterback Kwadra Griggs was efficient for much of the game.
Relying mostly on short passes to the flats, the sophomore completed 29 of 45 passes for 230 and a 10-yard touchdown.
He was also picked off twice. Midway through the second quarter, former South Carolina commit Octavis Johnson hijacked one of Griggs' passes and returned it 68 yards down the sideline for Gulf Coast's third touchdown.