After playing the first half of their season on the road, the Pascagoula Panthers opened up their home schedule Friday night, welcoming back the 1987 state championship squad.
Pascagoula could have used a few of those players, particularly offense, though, as visiting Gulfport held the Panthers to 68 total yards and 10 first downs as the Admirals won their second Region 4-6A game 25-6. Two of the Panthers first downs came on Admirals’ defensive penalties and two others followed offsides calls against Gulfport (3-3).
“We challenged (our defense) throughout the week,” said Gulfport coach Eddie Pierce. “We knew that Pascagoula would come out and try to hit us in the mouth.
“I thought our defense played very well,” he said.
Key to controlling Pascagoula’s offense Friday was limiting running back Dalvin Abney. Although Abney would finish with 79 yards on the night, including a 34-yard touchdown run late in the game to prevent the shutout, the Admirals kept him in check for most of the night, limiting the senior Panther running back to 25 yards over his first 15 carries.
“We knew that they were going to try to go to him and we knew we had to get to him,” Pierce said. “And, we did.”
For Pascagoula, not being able to get Abney started against the Admirals defense meant offensive frustration.
“Our (offensive) game is predicated on running the ball and getting at least 3.5 yards per carry,” said Pascagoula coach Lewis Sims. “Running the ball (behind Abney) is what we are about (offensively).”
Also hurting the Panthers (2-4, 0-2) were two turnovers on offense, both of which came off major losses. On Pascagoula’s first series, a bad snap resulted in a loss of 19 yards and Gulfport getting their first possession at the Panthers 29. Five plays later, T.Q. Newsome called his number on the option and powered in from 5 yards out to give the Admirals an early 6-0 lead.
On the Panthers second play of the second quarter, Admirals defenders Jeremiah Braziel and Eddie Preston met at the Pascagoula quarterback resulting in a sack of 11 yards by Braziel and a fumble recovered by Preston, giving Gulfport the ball at the Panthers 22. Jordan Lee capped the three-play Admirals’ drive, taking the option up the middle for 14 yards and a 19-0 Gulfport lead.
“The early turnovers really hurt us,” Sims said. “Gulfport did an excellent job of taking advantage of our turnovers.”
The Admirals, though, also put together two scoring drives without the help of Pascagoula turnovers. In the first quarter, Gulfport marched 92 yards on an 11-play drive to push the score to 12-0. Newsome played a leading role in the drive, scrambling for 30 yards early in the drive and hitting Jalen Knight on a 35-yard throw to the Panthers 11.
Two plays after Karlos Dillard was stopped about six inches from the goal line, Newsome finished the drive powering in for the touchdown.
The Admirals opened the second half by driving from their own 42 to the Panthers 40 before being forced to punt after Breland Williams sacked Newsome for a nine yard loss. However, the Admirals defense held Pascagoula to a three-and-out and, following a short Panthers punt, Gulfport had the ball at the Pascagoula 37. On the fourth play of the drive, Newsome took the ball in from 19 yards out, scoring his third touchdown on the night and extending the Gulfport lead to 25-0.
Newsome finished with 71 yards rushing on 13 carries. He also completed two passes - both to Knight - for 61 yards. Seven Gulfport backs combined for 213 rushing yards on 39 carries.
Lasavon Mangum led the Admirals defense with eight stops. Preston added five stops and Braziel four stops.
The 1987 Panthers, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pascagoula’s third state title, finished the season 14-0 and were ranked 14th in the nation at the end of the year. The team would eventually send 26 players to college football.
“It was good for the players this year to see the brotherhood and camaraderie those guys share 30 years later,” Lewis said. “That’s what football is about. It’s about the relationships that are made on the team, not about winning or losing.”
The game was also the first home game for the Panthers, who had to move an earlier scheduled home game to Gautier. Over the offseason, Pascagoula replaced its turf with field turf.
“It’s phenomenal,” Sims said of the new turf. “The logo really pops.”