Senior quarterback T.Q. Newsome proved yet again to be Mr. Efficient as the Gulfport football team claimed its second consecutive Region 4-6A championship at Greyhound Stadium Friday night.
The Admirals, who improved to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in 4-6A, pulled away in the second half for a 41-24 victory over Ocean Springs (6-4, 4-2). It’s their 15th consecutive win in region play.
With senior defensive back Zae Crain lifted high on his teammates’ shoulders, the Admirals celebrated the win by dancing with the band behind the end zone. Also, Newsome and senior linebacker Derick Hall sprinted across the field with the cheerleaders’ oversized flags.
“It’s indescribable,” Newsome said. “To know the work we put in back in the spring and to come out here and see it come true, it’s a special feeling. But we know we’ve got a lot of work to get where we really want to be.”
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It was a sweet moment for first-year head coach John Archie, who was doused with a cooler full of ice as time ran off the clock.
“It means a lot to my players, this team, this school district,” said Archie, a former Southern Miss linebacker. “We’ve had total support from everyone coming in as a new head coach. Everyone kind of bought into the program and we’re full speed ahead.”
Friday night’s game marked the fifth time this season that Newsome has eclipsed 100 yards through the air and on the ground. He also had a hand in five of Gulfport’s six touchdowns.
Newsome verbally committed to Southern Miss as a running back, but he showed yet again Friday night that he deserves a look behind center for the Golden Eagles. He completed nine of 12 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, he ran 19 times for 126 yards and three scores.
After completing just 41.5 percent of his passes as a junior, he has hit his receivers 66 percent of the time with tosses that show plenty of zip. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Newsome has thrown for 1,669 yards and 18 touchdowns with two interceptions while rushing for 891 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Even Newsome admits that he’s a little surprised by the numbers he’s putting up as a senior.
“I expected this because I put in the amount of work for it, but sometimes it does catch me off guard,” he said.
For Archie and the rest of the Admirals, Friday’s showing by Newsome has become par for the course.
“That’s what he does,” Archie said. “He comes to work every week and he kind of does the same thing in practice. He kind of puts his team on his back. He knows when we need him and he answers the bell.”
Ocean Springs led 21-20 at the half and Kaylee Foster’s 37-yard field goal pushed the lead to 24-20 with 9:19 left in the third quarter. Foster, who was playing with a broken nose she suffered while playing soccer, finished with six points.
Gulfport answered with a nearly 7-minute drive that Newsome capped with a 10-yard touchdown toss to Keeilan Thomas to regain the led at 27-24 at the 2:21 mark of the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Gulfport’s Isaiah Washington chased down a short kick to give the Admirals the ball at the Ocean Springs 32.
“We just called a sky kick. They didn’t adjust to it right,” Archie said. “Our guys were hustling down the field and we were able to recover.”
Four plays later, Newsome ran into the end zone from 4 yards out to make it 34-24 with 36.8 seconds left in the third quarter.
Hall again had an active night on defense for the Admirals, batting a pass from Ocean Springs quarterback Blake Noblin to allow Michael Esters to come up with an interception late in the first quarter.
“It was third and long and I knew they were going pass it,” Hall said. “I just had to get up and make a play. We were watching film all week and they’ve been running screens on third down and long. I just got my hands up, batted the ball down. I looked up for it, couldn’t see it. I looked back down and my boy, Michael, had it in his hands. It was a great play.”
Three plays later, Newsome ran it in from 4 yards out for the first score of the night to make it 7-0.
Hall said that he is taking his time on making a college decision, but Auburn still leads Mississippi State and Florida in the competition for his services.
Ocean Springs senior running back Micah Kelly ran 19 times for 109 yards and a touchdown to lead the offense.
Sophomore receiver Jason Brooks had a big moment on special teams for the Greyhounds, returning a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Ocean Springs, which has already locked up a postseason bid, will host Harrison Central in the regular season finale. Gulfport will host Biloxi in the regular season finale next week.