MAGNOLIA Four years after East Central finished Seth Smith’s first season as head coach with one win, the Hornets are within a single victory of playing for a Class 4A state championship.
East Central (12-0) throttled South Pike 77-32 Friday night in the third round of the playoffs to set up the highly anticipated “Hornet Bowl” matchup with Poplarville in the Class 4A South State title game.
“Thank you Lord, how blessed are we?,” Smith said after addressing his team. “Even the kids who went through the 1-10 season, the seniors who physically don’t get to be part of this, they heard us preach, ‘You guys are the foundation.’ It doesn’t matter what it is in life if you attack it with belief, attitude and effort. You can do it. You’re seeing that happen.”
East Central, which led 56-12 at the half, will have to win at Poplarville to clinch the program’s first state title game bid.
East Central’s “Touchdown” Tony Brown lived up to his nickname in impressive fashion Friday night, rushing 21 times for 149 yards and eight touchdowns – a single-game career record.
Seven of his touchdowns came in the just the first half. Brown didn’t necessarily break the big one in the first two quarters, but he had touchdown runs of 2, 4, 5, 3, 18, 6 and 12 yards.
“Coach just came to me at halftime and told me I had seven,” Brown said. “He said he wanted to give me one more so we went down there, we scored and that was it for me the whole game.”
Brown’s final score came on a 1-yard run with 11:03 remaining.
“He is who he is,” Smith said. “I’m not the smartest gentleman, but I’m smart enough to know a great player when I see one. How in the world he doesn’t have a Division I scholarship blows my mind. I don’t get it, but he’ll keep working his tail off and something great will happen for him.
Junior Cameron Gray was East Central’s leading rusher with five carries for 164 yards, including a 45-yarder on the first snap of the game for the Hornets.
Each rush for Gray came on the end-around.
“I just see green and try to score,” Gray said. “We’re the first team to go to South State at East Central. We’re just trying to be the first to win state.”
East Central also had success in the passing game with senior quarterback Rylee Brown completing all four of his pass attempts to Mississippi State signee Brad Cumbest for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
The vast majority of South Pike’s offense came from sophomore quarterback Dontavious Turner, who completed 8-of-15 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns and ran 19 times for 241 yards and two more scores.
“Their quarterback is really good,” Smith said. “Their quarterback is as good as any player we’ve faced.
“Our defense is great, they’ll bounce back and have a great week next week. It’s not going to get any easier because the team we’re playing next week is a giant.”
Poplarville (13-0) and East Central have been eyeing each other for much of the season as the lone remaining unbeatens in South Mississippi.
“Monday, we’ll figure out everything about them,” senior safety Andrew Seward said. “We can still get way better.”