The Poplarville Hornets and Quitman Panthers played toe-to-toe for three quarters Friday night, but it was the Hornets who owned the fourth, scoring 20 unanswered points to take a 33-12 victory and advance to the 4A state semi-finals.
Hornet running backs Jessie Pernell and Austin Bolton both registered more than 120 yards on the ground and wide receiver Canaan Ray hauled in two long touchdown passes to lead the offense, but it was a smothering defense that made the difference.
“We played phenomenal on defense,” said Jay Beech, Poplarville head coach. “Our kids played their hearts out tonight. That is what we are all about.”
Quitman struck first when quarterback Jed Lewis Connected with Dontavious Hall on a 68-yard touchdown pass. The Panthers faked the point-after, but the run was stuffed by Poplarville’s Turan Smith.
Early in the second quarter, the Hornets took over at their own eight and embarked on a 20-play drive that would eat up most of the quarter.
Bolton capped the drive with a one-yard run, and the point-after, gave Poplarville a 7-6 lead going into the half.
“That drive was huge,” Beech said. “Quitman has the best defense we have seen all year. The drive gave us a lot of confidence.”
The Hornets scored again to start the third, but this time, it only took three plays.
Quarterback Antonio Barnes used a good play-action fake to connect with Ray, who went untouched 51 yards for the score.
The point-after failed, but the Hornets extended their lead to 13-7.
Quitman answered on the final play of the third quarter when Lewis took a keeper two yards for a score.
Quitman went for two, but Lewis’ pass fell incomplete.
Poplarville recovered an on-sides kick attempt at midfield and three plays later, they extended their lead on a 25-yard scoring run by Pernell.
An interception by the Hornets’ Aritaeus Johnson set up another touchdown pass from Barnes to Ray from 36 yards out.
The Panthers would not get a first down in the fourth quarter.
Pernell closed the scoring with a 25-yard run with 1:59 to play, to make the final 33-12.
Pernell rushed 21 times for 122 yards. Bolton added 136 yards on 24 carries.
Lewis led the Panthers with 106 yards on 14 carries.