When quarterback T.Q. Newsome is healthy, the Gulfport Admirals are a handful.
Newsome has run 31 times for 226 yards and two touchdowns since returning from an injury at the start of region play, leading Gulfport (3-3, 2-0) to a pair of key 4-6A wins. At 6 p.m. on Friday at Milner Stadium in Gulfport, it’s up to the Hancock Hawks to find a way to slow down the 6-foot-2, 201-pound junior.
The kickoff was moved up one hour to accommodate Gulfport’s homecoming dance, which was moved up a day due to the threat of Tropical Storm Nate.
“They utilize T.Q. very well with his athleticism,” Hancock coach Neil Lollar said. “He has the ability to throw the ball so he’s a big focus for them. He’s one that could hurt us if we’re not careful and not playing assignment football.”
When Newsome was injured and missed the majority of games against Archbishop Rummel and Picayune, the Admirals were outscored by a total of 68-7.
He has thrown for 405 yards and two scores this season while running for 415 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s a steady guy,” Gulfport coach Eddie Pierce said. “The kids look to him for leadership. He plays hard, smart on offense. He’s led us in rushing the last two games.”
While Gulfport relies heavily on Newsome on offense, Hancock (5-1, 2-0) has gotten the ball to several playmakers to create one of the most balanced offenses on the Coast — 1,057 yards passing and 1,636 yards rushing.
Junior quarterback Caleb Garcia was flawless throwing the football for Hancock last week, completing 10-of-10 passes for 245 yards and four touchdowns as the Hawks topped St. Martin 49-24 in Kiln.
Garcia has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,057 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
Those are good numbers for a quarterback who was in a two-way battle with senior Michael Durr priot to the the season and didn’t even start the jamboree.
“I wouldn’t say I saw it coming,” Lollar said. “We knew he could throw it. There was never a question of that. Week by week, he has shown he can handle more and more. We’ve been able to open him up a little bit and not just with passing, but with our run game that that type of stuff.”
With Garcia taking over at quarterback, Durr has settled in well as the starting free safety on defense.
Hancock’s potent ground game may find the going a little tougher this week against a Gulfport defense led by senior linebacker Karlos Dillard, who was named this week to the roster for the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game on Dec. 16 in Hattiesburg.
Since getting bowled over by Picayune, the Admirals have been hard to run on.
“I think we’ve challenged those guys there and they’ve just been a tougher group. They’ve responded well,” Pierce said. “Pascagoula tried to line up and run it right and us and we shot that down.”
Junior Blake Comeaux is Hancock’s leading rusher with 125 carries for 670 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also getting help from a pair of seniors — Rondell Womack (482 yards) and Marquis Cherry (338 yards).
This is Womack’s first season of playing high school football after playing just basketball up to this point.
“His football knowledge is growing immensely on a week-to-week basis,” Lollar said. “I’m very pleased with how he’s handled it and how he’s responded.”
Gulfport is the popular pick to win the region at the moment, but Hancock is definitely in the mix and a win Friday night would be its first over the Admirals since 2003.
Gulfport may have 13 consecutive victories over Hancock, but Pierce is making sure his team doesn’t take this game for granted.
“It’s not the same old Hancock,” Piece said. “In the past, you could look on the schedule and say ‘OK, there’s a win.’ This is not the same group. They play extremely hard the whole game. They have great schemes offensively and defensively. Their coaches have done a super job. They are a good football team.”
Who: Hancock vs. Gulfport
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Milner Stadium, Gulfport
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