High School Sports

Poplarville is ‘live and popping’ as the Hornets seek their first state championship

As the Poplarville football team walked into Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville for the 2016 Class 4A state title game, PHS fans lined the route for the “Hornet Walk” in miserable, soggy weather.

When the game kicked off, Poplarville fans appeared to outnumber those who made the relatively short trek of 90 miles from Lafayette County.

Considering how many Poplarville residents made the 220-mile trip to Starkville in 2016, M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg should be crawling with fans in green and gold this Saturday. With Roberts Stadium just 39 ½ miles from the high school, Poplarville should have a distinct home field advantage when it takes on Louisville at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the Class 4A state title game.

If the buzz around Poplarville is any indication, it’s hard to believe many people will be left behind in the town of about 2,900 people on Saturday.

“Poplarville is jacked up,” head coach Jay Beech said. “There’s a lot excitement. Our community is just real proud of our team. Our community is live and popping. It’s a really united group. It’s a good time for our little town.”

Poplarville has always supported its football program, even when it wasn’t consistently in the hunt for state championships.

“Our fans are really hungry for any success or exposure we can get for Poplarville,” athletic director Jonathan Ray said. “We’ve always had a good following no matter what the team has done. The recent success just accelerates that.”

Poplarville’s modest football stadium is consistently packed on Friday nights during football season. When the Hornets hit the road, there’s sure to be a caravan of fans following them.

On Saturday morning, I-59 will be chock full of Poplarville boosters.

“I’m sure everybody and their grandma will be there,” senior wingback Tyson Holston said on Tuesday.

Senior defensive end/tight end Mario Barnes appreciates the backing he and his teammates have received during his high school career.

“When we travel, it’s like we’re at home. It almost seems like we don’t even travel,” he said.

Seeking a 1st title

The Hornets are hoping the home-field advantage in Hattiesburg will deliver better results than the 27-12 loss to Lafayette County in 2016.

While the Hornets don’t yet have a state title trophy in their cabinet, they have become the most consistent Class 4A program in the southern half of the state since Beech took over in 2014. The Hornets are 51-15 under his watch and have played in the last three South State title games, winning two.

Beech’s Wing-T offense has proven a great fit in Poplarville, putting talented skill players in position to shine. This season, he may have the most weapons he’s ever had. The Hornets have rushed for 4,819 yards and 71 touchdowns with only one player clearing 1,000 yards — junior Chase Shears (1,239).

Holston, senior Amahd Bolton, senior quarterback Antonio Barnes, junior Cory Knight and junior Ethan Taylor all have 400 yards rushing or more this season.

Shears’ numbers are mind-boggling considering he has only 63 carries for the season and has only played in 10 games. He is averaging an astonishing 19.7 yards a carry.

His game-breaking abilities have been on full display lately. Of the eight touchdowns he has over the last two games, five are for 66 yards or more.

Shears injured his shoulder late in last week’s 33-17 win over East Central, but Beech said he expects him to play through through pain against Louisville (14-1).

As Beech has proven throughout his career, the Hornets will be ready for the challenge against a talented Louisville squad.

“He’s just one of those guys that shows up for work every day,” Holston said of Beech. “He gives you everything he’s got. It’s not very hard to play hard for him.”

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @CoastCoverage.