Standing on exhausted legs and wearing a relieved grin, Picayune running back Cameron Thomas offered the perfect explanation for the Maroon Tide’s recipe for success on offense.
“It’s Coach (Dodd) Lee preaching it every day, ‘If we come with the intensity, we’ll be great.’” the senior said Friday night at Milner Stadium. “The offense has been working for years. It won’t stop now.”
Lee is set to retire at the end of the 2019 campaign, his 24th as the Picayune head coach, and Friday night’s 54-47 victory at Gulfport behind 600 yards of offense is another sign that he is determined to make his final campaign count.
When asked how he’s handling his last season as the Maroon Tide head coach, he shook his head and said, “It’s worse. I swear it’s worse.”
“You just want to do so good for those kids. You want them to do well. You want them to be tough, get tougher. You can’t do everything, but we try to.”
If there’s one Picayune football player who did meet Lee’s challenge to do everything on Friday, it’s Thomas.
The 5-foot-7, 155-pound running back ran 25 times for 346 yards and three touchdowns to help carry the Maroon Tide over the finish line in an epic shootout with a Gulfport offense led by senior quarterback Cade Crosby.
After a failed onside kick by Gulfport (2-2) to begin the second half, Thomas scampered 49 yards to the end zone to give the Maroon Tide (3-0) a 41-28 lead at the 11:50 mark of the third quarter.
The Admirals (2-2) didn’t cave after the tough break, rallying to tie the game at 47-47 with 10 minutes remaining on a 3-yard touchdown by William Jones.
With the game appearing to slip away from Picayune, it was Thomas who responded with a 62-yard touchdown run up the middle to go up 54-47 with 8 minutes on the clock.
“I saw it come back open inside,” Thomas said. “I just shot through there and caught green grass. I already knew we had to get a score to get the win. We came through.”
Thomas showed off great elusiveness, quick moves and good speed in the open field.
“He’s a strong, fast little dude,” Lee said. “If he gets a crease, he can go. We ought to be working him into shape.”
Gulfport got the ball back at its own 24 with 1:52 remaining, but a penalty set the Admirals back 10 yards and the Picayune defense finally shut the door.
Crosby completed 24 of 36 passes for 337 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
The Long Beach transfer took over at quarterback in the second half of the 21-14 win at Northwest Rankin on Aug. 30 and appears to have settled in nicely behind center in his lone season as an Admiral.
“It’s crazy the amount of difference in chemistry from the first game,” he said. “The offense is starting to click.”
Picayune is in search of its third state title under Lee and Thomas’ durability and toughness at running back will be key to the team’s success.
“I hope he is (durable),” Lee said. “We’ll find out in eight or nine weeks if he is durable, but we have other guys who can run the ball too.”
Picayune will next host Poplarville on Sept. 20 while Gulfport will have next week off.