High School Sports

No. 4 Picayune, No. 2 Gulfport battle in slugfest

Picayune dominates Gulfport in high school football

Picayune gets out to a 10-0 lead and holds off a late Gulfport drive to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room during the first half of a football game on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. Video by John Ftizhugh/Sun Herald
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Picayune gets out to a 10-0 lead and holds off a late Gulfport drive to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room during the first half of a football game on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. Video by John Ftizhugh/Sun Herald

No. 4 Picayune made another statement Friday. For the third week in a row, the Class 5A Maroon Tide knocked off a tough 6A Coast school, this time edging No. 2 Gulfport 25-7.

A week ago against St. Martin, the Tide broke free for several long touchdowns in the lopsided victory. The Tide couldn’t rely on the home runs Friday and instead had to work their way down the field on their four scores.

“We just kept coming,” said senior fullback Blake Merrifield, whose 3-yard touchdown with 7:53 remaining in the first half pushed Picayune (3-0) ahead 10-0. “We had excellent blocking from our O-line and kept them guessing.”

The Maroon Tide broke the shutout seven seconds into the second quarter with a 22-yard field goal by Isidro Loya, capping a 40-yard drive.

Picayune added to its lead with 1:07 remaining in the first half on a 2-yard touchdown run by Joshua Littles. The score was set up by a 35-yard run from Merrifield and a beautiful 25-yard pass from Skylar Bowman to Chris Magee down the home sideline.

Picayune’s David Baker muscled his way through the line for a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:18 remaining and the Tide converted a bobbled snap into a 2-point conversion to conclude the night’s scoring.

“It was hard going,” Picayune coach Dodd Lee said of his team relying on short runs for scores. “They’re a good defensive football team, the best we’ve played up until this point.”

Gulfport’s lone score came at 3:11 in the second quarter. The Admirals (2-2) opted to rotate starter Cleveland Ford and Rhodes Walker at quarterback and for a while, it worked. Trailing 10-0, Walker tossed a short pass to Jalen Knight on the left side. The receiver quickly turned the corner, found the sideline and raced 10 yards for the score.

“We have confidence in Rhodes. We don’t feel like we lose anything,” GHS coach Eddie Pierce said. “He did a good job. I was proud of him. He’ll play some more. Cleveland is a good enough athlete we can move him around.”

Under pressure

Outside of the lone touchdown drive, Gulfport struggled to move the chains regularly. The Admirals’ quarterbacks were constantly under pressure and drops by receivers at key moments didn’t help their cause.

“We made too many mental mistakes and you just don’t make those in the third game of the year,” Pierce said. “That’s something we’ve got to get ironed out. Drops kill drives. We had several drives tonight stopped.”

Picayune junior linebacker Brian Taylor broke through for two sacks Friday night at Lee-Triplett Stadium. The constant pressure kept Gulfport’s quarterbacks on edge.

Taylor credited Picayune’s secondary for the defense’s success.

“Our cornerbacks took over the game,” he said. “When they threw passes we got in there and did our job. We, us linebackers, just had to fill the holes.

“The cornerbacks made the difference.”

Looking ahead

Gulfport will have a bye week before opening its region schedule at St. Martin on Sept. 23.

“We were 2-2 at this point last year,” Pierce said, referring to last year’s Region 4-6A title team. “We’re going to battle it out.”

Even after the 3-0 start with wins over D’Iberville, St. Martin and now Gulfport, Lee said his team doesn’t have an added boost of confidence.

“Really, we just take every day one day at a time because everything can change in a second,” he said. “Our kids, we’re just going to try and stay even keel, not read about how good y’all say they are. Believe it or not, that makes a difference. If you start believing in how good you are, something bad will happen.”

With Hancock and St. Stanislaus both losing Friday, Picayune is the lone unbeaten team on the Coast. They’ll put their undefeated mark on the line Friday at Harrison Central.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

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