It’s hard to believe Hattiesburg hasn’t won a region title since 1998, and it’s even harder to believe it’s never clinched one at home. Well, that all changed Thursday night when the Tigers beat Long Beach 48-19 to earn the Region 4-5A Title and No. 1 seed in the 5A playoffs.
“It feels good to be able to do it right here at home in front of your home crowd,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said.
Hattiesburg has a chance to complete its regular season undefeated next week when it travels to West Harrison.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” senior linebacker Dexter Jordan said. “You don’t want to come this far and lose, so we have to work hard and not take anyone lightly. We have to play West Harrison like we play anybody else.”
Whether it was due to senior night or the game being moved up a night earlier, the Tigers started slower than they’re accustomed to starting. Long Beach needed just one offensive play to jump up 7-0, then it pushed the lead to 13-6 on the next drive.
Sophomore quarterback Cade Crosby found senior Tony Young on a simple wide receiver screen play, and after a few missed tackles, Young took it to the house from 65 yards.
Hattiesburg needed five plays to answer, however, as senior running back Fabian Franklin capped off the Tigers’ first possession with a 6-yard score to cut the Bearcats’ lead to 7-6 after the missed point-after-attempt.
On the ensuing drive for Long Beach, Crosby connected with junior Logan Matherne on back-to-back long pass plays, one for 35 yards and the second for a 42-yard touchdown, to give Long Beach a 13-6 lead.
After that, though, it was all Hattiesburg (10-0, 6-0).
“I don’t know, just a lack of execution early on offense,” Vance said. “Just a lack of focus, I think, and it took some settling down.”
Hattiesburg grabbed its first lead of the game at the end of the first quarter after a Long Beach punt traveled 1 yard. Junior Jarod “Snoop” Conner took the handoff 24 yards to the house on Hattiesburg’s first play, too.
The untamed zoo
It’s the Hattiesburg defense’s calling card, and it played like an untamed zoo in the second quarter. The Tigers scored two defensive touchdowns in the second and gave their offense the ball at the Bearcats’ 7-yard line to set up another touchdown.
Midway through the second quarter, Long Beach ran an option play to the left, which was something Jordan recognized from watching film all week. He grabbed the pitch to the running back and easily scored from the 15-yard line to push the Hattiesburg lead to 21-13.
Jordan said he was waiting for Long Beach to call that play, and instincts and athleticism took over.
“That was just my reaction shuffling to the ball,” Jordan said. “When I read the guard and saw that he was pitching it, it came right to me.”
On the next Long Beach (6-4, 3-3) offensive play, the Tigers had Crosby in their grasp for a safety, but he lofted the ball up in the air and senior Josh Sims intercepted the pass to set the Tigers’ offense up at the 7. Senior D’andre Humbles scored from the 1-yard line two plays later to extend the lead, 28-13.
Long Beach moved the ball well on its ensuing drive, but the HHS defense blew up a bubble screen on the left side, and senior linebacker Will Robinson tracked down the loose ball for a 47-yard scoop-and-score.
That gave Hattiesburg the 35-13 lead going into halftime.
“We had to get some momentum on defense,” Jordan said. “We came out asleep. It’s Thursday. We had a change of plans, but we had to adapt. We kind of adapted a little late, but we came on as a defense.”
Franklin added an 11-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter to give Hattiesburg a 42-13 lead, and junior running back Drexlan Allen scored from the 20-yard line in the beginning of the fourth quarter to bring the game to its final, 48-19.
Long Beach’s lone second-half touchdown came in the third quarter when Crosby found Young on a 15-yard, fourth-down pass.
Crosby completed 15 of 26 passes for 238 yards with three touchdowns. Young had 11 catches for 160 yards and two scores.