High School Sports

East Central, Hazlehurst showdown decided in second half

East Central's Brad Cumbest (25) catches a pass against Hazlehurst cornerback Julius Brown (8) during the second quarter, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, at East Central High School in Hurley, Miss.
East Central's Brad Cumbest (25) catches a pass against Hazlehurst cornerback Julius Brown (8) during the second quarter, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, at East Central High School in Hurley, Miss. Special to the Sun Herald

Tony Brown scored on two 1 yard runs in the second half as East Central won a defensive battle against Hazlehurst 21-0 in Mississippi high school football Friday.

“I don’t think we were intense in the first half as we were last week,” said East Central coach Seth Smith.

Smith denied that homecoming festivities may have affected his team, but said the Hornets (4-0) may have underestimated the Indians, who were 12-1 last year and went into the third round of the Class 3A playoffs.

“They are a very good team,” Smith said. “They could play for the Class 3A state championship this year.”

Hazlehurst coach Todd McDaniel thought his team was worn down by the Hornets in the second half.

“We usually wear down other teams,” McDaniel said. “But, tonight, that happened to us.”

McDaniel scheduled the Hornets after losing in the third round of the playoffs last year to add some strength to the Indians’ schedule.

“They are a good physical football team, probably the most physical team we will play all year,” he said. “I didn’t want to make it to the third round of the playoffs this year before we played a team like this.”

After the Indians (3-2) dominated time of possession in the first half, East Central scored on its first three possessions of the second half to put the game away and remain undefeated.

East Central opened the third quarter and, almost immediately, went backwards with a holding call. However, quarterback Rylee Brown connected with Brad Cumbest for a 35 yard pass play to get the ball near midfield. Tony Brown and Ryan Evans would carry the ball inside the Indians’ 20 where Rylee hooked up with Cumbest for a second time - this time for 18 yards - for the game’s first touchdown.

On the Hornets’ second possession, a 23 yard Louis Morgan ramble was followed four plays later by a 26 yard Tony Brown carry to the Indians 1. Brown finished the drive with his first touchdown of the night.

Then, after East Central forced a short, 7 yard punt, the Hornets took over on the Indians 25. A pass interference call against the Indians and a 5-yard run by Rylee Brown on fourth-and-4 from the 6 set up Tony Brown’s second 1-yard scoring run of the night.

Although East Central pulled away late, Hazlehurst played keep-away for most of the first half, but were not able to score. The Indians held the ball for 18:50 of the first half, an advantage built, in part, by the Indians first drive of the game.

Hornets kicker Branson Davis drove the opening kickoff into the endzone forcing the Indians to start the game at their 20. Hazlehurst, however, converted two fourth downs during the ensuing drive, using 19 plays and 11:32of the first quarter to drive the ball to the Hornets 11 before turning the ball over on downs.

The Indians defense would hold the Hornets on East Central’s first possession. A 35-yard Hornet punt gave Hazlehurst the ball at the Hornets 47. A pass interference call - one of four on East Central’s secondary Friday - and a 16-yard Tim Steward run brought the ball inside the East Central 20. However, the Hornets defense would again force a turnover on downs at the 11.

Smith never experienced a quarter where his offense was able to run only one play as they did in the first quarter. The lack of ball possession made it difficult for East Central to get going offensively.

“It was good to be able to run plays in the second half,” he said. “In the first half, we couldn’t get into rhythm because we didn’t have the ball. However, once we got the ball and got in rhythm, we were able to move the ball.”

Hazlehurst limited Hornets runningback Tony Brown to 121 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Evans finished with 36 yards on eight carries. Rylee Brown was 4-of-5 passing for 100 yards, connecting three times with Cumbest for 101 yards.

Indians quarterback Quamead Stewart ran the ball 16 times for 63 yards. He was only 1-of-7 passing, but picked up four first downs in the passing attack after East Central was called for pass interference on Hazlehurst receivers.