Quarterback T.Q. Newsome took care of business in the first half and the Gulfport defense thoroughly dominated as the Admirals rolled to a 26-7 win over Hancock Friday night.
The victory was a significant step toward the Region 4-6A title for Gulfport (4-3, 3-0) against a resurgent Hancock team (5-2, 2-1) that had yet to lose to a team from the state of Mississippi prior to Friday night's contest.
After losing back-to-back games against Archbishop Rummel and Picayune while Newsome was sidelined with an injury, Gulfport has won three consecutive games.
Gulfport senior linebacker Karlos Dillard again led the way on defense, regularly stuffing the Hancock ground game up the middle.
“We saw that they came off the ball pretty hard, but we believed we could stop them at the line of scrimmage so we dominated the trenches,” Dillard said. “I think that prepared us to get the W.”
The Gulfport defense set to the tone early in the contest when Hancock decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 from its own 30 with 7:14 left in the first quarter. Dillard surged in to make a tackle for a 1-yard loss on Hancock running back Blake Comeaux, turning the ball over on downs.
“That kind of looked like it took the wind out of their sails,” Gulfport coach Eddie Pierce said. “Our kids worked hard all week. We've got a great amount of respect for Hancock. They've got a great team. We had some good things happen to us early and we kind of stayed on top of them.”
Hancock coach Neil Lollar took ownership for the decision to go for it on fourth down in his own territory.
“I have that much faith in my guys to execute that play,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn't work out on our half. I told the defense and told the team, 'That one is on me.' I told them I'd do it again. That's how much faith I have in them. It was a big moment that went us.
Following the big stop, Gulfport took over on the Hancock 29 and Jalen Knight scampered 25 yards on a reverse to set up a 4-yard run by Newsome, giving the Admirals a 7-0 advantage at the 6:50 mark of the first quarter.
Gulfport put together a much longer scoring drive on its next possession, going 80 plays on 11 plays to push its lead to 13-0 with 11:20 left in the first half. Newsome was again the man who finished off the drive, punching it in from 1 yard out.
Helped by a 39-yard run by Jordan Lee, Gulfport capped off another scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown toss from Newsome to Luke Dimitriades to give the Admirals a 19-0 lead at the 2:30 mark of the second quarter.
Hancock did not score an offensive touchdown in the game. The Hawks' lone score came at the end of the third quarter when senior Chase McDonald blocked a punt and fellow senior Austin Briley recovered in the end zone to make it 19-7 headed into the fourth quarter.
The Gulfport defense held Hancock scoreless in the fourth quarter and senior Antonio Sandifer had a 4-yard touchdown run late in the game to finish off the victory.
Newsome ran 18 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns and Jordan Lee ran 12 times for 66 yards.
Hancock quarterback Caleb Garcia completed 9-of-14 passes for 68 yards and Rondell Womack had 11 carries for 62 yards.
Gulfport did a good job of limiting Hancock's leading rusher, Blake Comeaux. He had just 22 yards on 11 carries.
Gulfport will go on the road the next two weeks, traveling to Harrison Central on Oct. 13 and D'Iberville on Oct. 20.
Hancock will play host to D'Iberville next week.