High School Sports

An unlikely star steps up late to clinch Harrison Central’s win over East Central

Atavian Ray scores late to spark Harrison Central

Harrison Central beat East Central to win the Port City Bowl.
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Harrison Central beat East Central to win the Port City Bowl.

The Harrison Central offense features two of the Coast’s most talented juniors on offense in receiver Jacobi Moore and running back Jaidon McClain, but it was an unheralded underclassman who provided the decisive moment Friday night against East Central in the Port City Bowl.

Junior running back Atavian Ray took the handoff, used a quick move at the line of scrimmage and found the middle of the field wide open for a 38-yard touchdown run with 4:24 remaining to give Harrison Central the lead for good at 21-14.

It was only Ray’s second carry of the night, but it proved to be the final blow to end a regular-season winning streak for East Central that had stood since Oct. 14, 2016 — a total of 1,043 days.

“I was just in the moment,” the 5-foot-5, 148-pound Ray said of his touchdown run. “I got past him and I knew it was a touchdown. It was wide open so I just kept running.

“It was just a little jab and I got past him. The linemen were helping me with their blocking.”

While Ray’s chances were limited Friday, it came as no surprise to his teammates that he was able to pull off the big run in a clutch situation.

“He does the same thing in practice,” Moore said. “We all knew he was going to score.”

East Central (0-1) had enough time to march down the field for a touchdown, but senior running back Teshun McGee fumbled near the Harrison Central 20 with less than a minute remaining to allow the Red Rebels (1-0) to run out the clock. Junior defensive lineman Jamarus Raiford was the man who recovered the McGee fumble.

McGee managed to run 17 times for 122 yards and a touchdown, but the Harrison Central defense did a good job of preventing East Central from breaking many big gainers on the ground.

“Play after play, they wear on you,” Harrison Central coach Casey Cain said. “I thought we did a great job. Our defensive coaches did a great job of adjusting to what they were doing early and we held in there.”

Harrison Central lived by the big play on offense with all three touchdowns coming from 38 yards or longer.

On a run similar to Ray’s late TD, McClain broke through the middle of the East Central defense for a 42-yard touchdown with 5:36 left in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7.

McClain, who stands 5-10, 195 pounds, turned in an impressive season-opening performance, running 14 times for 129 yards and one touchdown.

East Central started both halves with a touchdown with a 2-yard run by Will Young in the first quarter and a 27-yard run by McGee in the third quarter to take a 14-7 lead.

Harrison Central responded when Gannon Stringer, a junior making his first start at quarterback, tossed the ball about 15 yards down field to Moore, who did the rest of the work for a 68-yard touchdown with just under 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Jones flashed the skill that earned him scholarship offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn in the spring.

“Jacobi is special,” Harrison Central coach Casey Cain said. “I’ve been around some great ones in 23 years and he’s ready to go.”

The East Central offense was hindered by its own mistakes, including a pair of turnovers and far too many penalties.

“It reminded me a lot of Biloxi last year – drive, drive, penalty, punt,” East Central coach Seth Smith said. “Those are all fixable things. A lot of it is being rusty. We’ve got two weeks to fix it. If we don’t fix it, we’re in trouble. If we do fix it, we’ll have a good year.”

Harrison Central will host Petal on Aug. 30 while East Central will enter the bye week before traveling to Vancleave on Sept. 6.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.