Elliot Nolan’s 23-yard field goal on the final play lifted Hancock to a 18-15 victory over Pascagoula on Friday at War Memorial Stadium.
The Hawks (9-2) will host Brandon in round one of the 6A state playoffs. The win gives the Hawks their first nine-win season since 2001.
“We overcame a lot of adversity tonight, but we got it done,” Hawks coach Neil Lollar said. “Pascagoula played their hearts out. Coach Lewis Sims did a great job having them prepared for us.”
The Panthers (3-8) season ended, but coach Lewis Sims believes the team’s effort will be a huge plus heading into next season.
“I could not be more proud of the passion, desire, and toughness these guys showed tonight,” Sims said. “Our seniors can leave with their heads high. It came down to the final play again for us. Hancock just made one more play than we did.”
The game remained scoreless until late in the second quarter when the Hawks took advantage of an interception by Austin Briley.
Seven plays after the pick, Marquis Cherry bowled over a defender into the endzone from a yard out at the 1:52 mark of the second quarter. Nolan’s point-after gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead.
Pascagoula climbed within 7-2 when Jared Johnson sacked Caleb Garcia in the end zone for a safety.
The Hawks had a bad handoff exchange and it was recovered by Pascagoula at the Hawks’ 11. Three plays later, Penny hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jonas Burley to give the Panthers a 8-7 lead with 4:49 to play in the third.
Hancock answered with a seven play, 55-yard drive to reclaim the lead. Cherry scored on a one-yard plunge. He added a two-point conversion to give Hancock a 15-8 lead with 1:55 to play in the period.
Cherry led all rushers in the game with 130 yards on 23 carries. Rondell Womack added 81 yards on 15 carries.
“We never really got our offense clicking tonight,” Lollar said. “We made some plays when we had too. Marquis had a great evening.”
The Panthers answered Hancock’s score with an epic 15 play march to tie the game.
Dalvin Abney carried the ball 13 times on the march for 65 yards, including two fourth down conversions. He finished the game with 128 yards on 26 carries. Quarterback Jonas Burley scored from a yard out, tying the game at 15-15 with 5:53 to play.
Hancock took over at the 14 after the kickoff, but two penalties backed them up to the five. Facing a critical third-and-19, Garcia launched a pass down the sideline for Anthony Jones who hauled it in for a huge 52 yard gain.
“I had a step and I saw it coming in slow motion,” Jones said. “I just wanted to make sure I caught it. It was a great feeling to lift up my teammates.”
A 19-yard run by Womack gave the Hawks another first down inside the Panther 30. Pascagoula would stop the Hawks at the six, but they exhaused all of their timeouts.
Hancock called a timeout with two seconds to play and called on Nolan.
Brooks Rayburn took the snap and placed the ball down with no problem as Nolan booted it through from 23 yards to win.
“It was just another kick,” Nolan said. “I’ve practiced it 1,000 times. It is pretty cool to actually be in that situation to win a game. The line blocked well and Brooks put it down. All I had to do was boot it through.”