Poplarville football takes mannequin challenge
The scene in Pearl River County Friday night should be electric.
The Picayune football team will host Laurel in the Class 5A South State title game. Just 25 miles away, Florence will be at Poplarville in the Class 4A South State championship contest.
There's been plenty of good football played in Pearl River County over the years, but there haven’t been many bigger weeks for the sport in the community than the one coming up.
Picayune (12-1) advanced with a 40-38 win over Wayne County thanks to a 30-yard field goal by Isidro Loya with 8 seconds remaining.
The Maroon Tide's win was a moment of redemption for head coach Dodd Lee and his players after losing to the War Eagles in the playoffs the last two seasons by a combined score of 100-35.
Picayune is back in the Class 5A South State title game for the first time since winning the state championship in 2013. It was Laurel who Picayune beat 35-28 in that year's Class 5A South State title game. The Maroon Tide took down Oxford 42-35 for the state championship.
The Laurel team that Picayune hosts Friday night is 12-1 with its lone loss coming on Aug. 27 at Hattiesburg.
The Golden Tornadoes got their own bit of revenge Friday night by topping Hattiesburg 45-42 in a barn burner.
While Picayune had a fight on its hands Friday night, Poplarville made it look easy with a 60-12 win at Mendenhall.
If you want to know how excited the Poplarville community is about its football team, all you had to do was take a look at the visitor's bleachers Friday night at Mendenhall. It appeared as if the Hornets had more fans on hand than the home team.
Poplarville head coach Jay Beech has led the program to its first South State title game since 1981 when it took only one win in the playoffs to advance that far.
If the Hornets win Friday, they'll play in a state title game for the first time in program history.
Poplarville senior fullback Jesse Pernell said that he and his teammates have been talking about a state title since his sophomore year.
"That's been our main goal since 2014," he said. "We knew we could get there if everybody came together. We've still got work to do, two more games to go."
Much of the talk surrounding Poplarville has been its explosive offense, but the Hornets' defense continues to prove itself as one of the best units in the state.
Poplarville forced Mendenhall into five turnovers on Friday. The first touchdown the Hornets gave up Friday night was a complete bust in coverage and the second was a meaningless pass in the final moments of the game.
"The defense is so electric," Poplarville junior running back Austin Bolton said. "They feed off us. When we do something they go out there and get the ball back and we go out and score."
It got so bad for Mendenhall that the fourth quarter featured a running clock.
The Florence team (12-2) that Poplarville hosts Friday night lost 26-16 to Mendenhall in the season opener.