PERKINSTON -- Coach Chad Huff cautioned his Gulf Coast team that Saturday was going to be a new game.
And it was -- for about a quarter.
One week after defeating Itawamba by 31 points on homecoming, No. 8 Gulf Coast opened the MACJC playoffs by routing the Indians 49-17 at A.L. May Memorial Stadium.
"We talked about it all week, that this football team was going to show up ready to play and they did," Huff said. "I believe in this defense and this football team and when you do that as a head coach, you can take some risks. They just kept battling. They have a lot of character and believe in each other and just battled through the storm."
Gulf Coast advanced to the state championship game and will travel to No. 2 Northwest, which rallied Saturday to defeat East Central 27-20.
The showdown is a rematch of Gulf Coast's second game of the season, one the Bulldogs (8-2) lost 26-10.
Regardless of the opponent, defensive coordinator Steve Davis said the Bulldogs are ready for their first MACJC title game since 2012. Gulf Coast last won the state championship in 2010.
"It don't matter (who we face)," he said. "We'll play in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Mendenhall. We don't care. We're just glad we're in the championship."
Saturday, Itawamba (6-4) used big plays early on to pull ahead 17-7. Southern Miss commit Kwadra Griggs hit Dominic Walker on a 59-yard pass on the opening drive to set up a 4-yard score by running back Kadarius Forside. After Gulf Coast's Chris Robinson tied the game on a 1-yard run, ICC running back Octavious Matthews broke free up the middle for a 75-yard run to put the visitors ahead 14-0. Zach Ellis added a 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter to extend ICC's lead to 17-7.
"We were flat the first two series, gave up 14 points we shouldn't have," Davis said. "We just weren't focused and then whatever lit us up, lit us up. It was all downhill after that."
GeVonte Jones sparked the MACJC South Division champions' 28-point second-quarter rally with a 3-yard touchdown run at the 7:02 mark in the second. Trod Daniels gave the Bulldogs their first lead on their next possession with a 38-yard touchdown run.
In the season finale, Griggs was plagued by two ill-timed first-half interceptions. History repeated itself Saturday as the Bulldogs hijacked two of Griggs passes near midfield on consecutive possessions. Marcus Betts' interception with 2:48 in the half set up A.J. Erdely's 47-yard touchdown to former Gulfport standout Jonathan Nance to put MGCCC ahead 28-17. Five plays later Reggio Dean housed a 50-plus yard interception to cap the half's scoring.
"That changed the game," Dean said. "We knew it was going to take a play or two to change the momentum. Once we got the momentum we never gave it back."
Gulf Coast added to its lead in the second half with a 10-yard touchdown run by Robinson and a 3-yard run by former Vancleave standout Walter Williams.
"They just made more big plays than we did," said Griggs, who completed 9 of 18 passes for 103 yards. "That was it. I think we just got comfortable 17-7. We took our foot off the gas and they made more plays than we did."
Leading the way
Erdely ended up completing 13 of 20 passes for 198 yards. Daniels led Gulf Coast with 90 yards rushing on 10 carries. Robinson rushed for 78 yards on 16 carries. Williams rushed for 78 yards on a game-high 21 carries. Nance had a game-high 109 yards on five receptions.
Matthews led ICC with 130 yards on 10 carries.