High School Sports

St. Martin aims to erase 2016 heartbreak, finally take down Gulfport

The St. Martin football team has a shot to place itself firmly in the postseason hunt and end a long-running drought at 7 p.m. Friday night.

The Yellow Jackets (3-1) travel to Gulfport (1-3) hoping to pick up the program’s first win over the Admirals since 2003 in the Region 4-6A opener for both teams.

St. Martin came up just shy of beating Gulfport last season, losing 42-35 in double overtime as a pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the game’s final play.

“It would mean a lot,” St. Martin linebacker Keni Williams said of a potential win at Gulfport. “We got very close last year. We plan on playing very well as a team this year and beating them. We’re a team full of juniors. It would mean a lot to the class of 2019 to be able to do that.”

St. Martin is a very different team than the one that took the field a year ago against Gulfport. After relying on an explosive offense led by quarterback Wayne Overman and receiver Kalem Reddix in 2016, the Yellow Jackets have picked it up a notch on the defensive side of the ball.

Aside from a 32-0 loss at undefeated Crestview (Fla.), St. Martin has allowed 19 total points to St. Stanislaus, Tylertown and Forest Hill.

St. Martin defensive coordinator Neil Broussard, who previously served on the staff at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, has helped inspire a turnaround on that side of the ball after the Yellow Jackets gave up 35 points or more in six games last season.

“(Broussard) has brought a lot to this team,” Williams said. “Last year, we didn’t care as much. Now it’s like everything is on us. We care a lot. The linebackers have done very well to keep the team together, me and my fellow linebacker Jayce Franklin.”

St. Martin coach Eddie Wayne Whitehead is no longer talking about putting up big numbers on the scoreboard. It’s now about “grinding out first downs.”

St. Martin has been strong on the ground so far behind a pair of juniors, running back Ham McGee and quarterback Mileon Graham. McGee has run 64 times for 401 yards and four scores while Graham has pitched in 69 carries for 345 yards and three scores.

While St. Martin has played better football of late, Whitehead knows there’s no easy victory at Gulfport’s Milner Stadium.

“We’re going to have to contain Gulfport’s speed,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of fast kids and they’re explosive on offense.”

Scouting the Admirals

Gulfport, which has lost three consecutive games, is coming off a difficult non-region schedule. After beating George County 26-7 in the opener, the Admirals fell 28-21 in a hard-fought contest at Petal. The last two games have been lopsided defeats, 31-0 at Archbishop Rummel and 37-7 to Picayune at Milner Stadium.

Gulfport can take confidence in the fact that junior T.Q. Newsome will be back at quarterback after missing much of the last two games with an injury.

“He could have played last week,” Gulfport coach Eddie Pierce said. “He’s been doing pretty good. We didn’t have him in the spring because he was at baseball. The first live action he saw was against George County.”

Newsome has run 37 times for 163 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Admirals.

While Gulfport has moved the ball well when Newsome is healthy, it will again be on the defense to set the tone against St. Martin.

“The first two games, the defense did a great job,” Pierce said. “We got hit in the mouth the last two games. Everybody knows Picayune is going to line it up and run at you. We didn’t respond too well to that. We’re hoping that will change this week.”

Game plan

Who: St. Martin vs. Gulfport

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Milner Stadium, Gulfport

Radio: AdmiralNation.com

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