Gulfport’s iron grip on Region 4-6A appeared to loosen for a brief moment late Friday night, but the Admirals again found a way to overcome a moment of adversity on their way to a 21st consecutive victory in region competition.
Gulfport (7-2, 5-0) held off D’Iberville 35-28 at Warrior Stadium on the strength of an impressive first half that led to a 21-0 lead at halftime. In the second half, the Admirals recovered three onside kicks to quell the rally and finish off the victory.
The last time the Admirals fell in region play was a 20-17 loss to D’Iberville at Milner Stadium on Oct. 21, 2016, and the seniors are determined to make sure the streak doesn’t end under their watch.
“It means so much,” Gulfport senior quarterback Cade Crosby said. “This whole week, really the goal was just to get first place in the region. We knew everybody doubted us this week, but we proved them all wrong.”
D’Iberville (7-2, 4-1) began to move the ball consistently on offense in the second half and steadily chipped away at the Gulfport advantage. An 11-yard touchdown pass from Dwight Williams to Cameron Fairley cut the Admirals’ lead to 35-21 with 5:27 remaining.
The D’Iberville defense got a rare quick stop on the ensuing Gulfport possession, forcing the Admirals to punt. Junior defensive back Justin Walley raced in to bat down the punt and fellow junior Raymond Lias gathered the loose ball on his way to the end zone to make it 35-28 with 4:55 remaining.
“We had (the block) in mind,” D’Iberville coach Larry Dolan said. “We blocked one earlier this season. We looked at their (punt unit) and they looked a little suspect. We picked the right time to use it. That was a big play for us and gave us a chance to get back in the game for sure.”
The 14 points in a span of 30 seconds suddenly had the Warriors believing and the Admirals worried that they had lost the momentum.
“I was a little nervous to be honest,” Gulfport coach John Archie said. “I wasn’t expecting it. That was the first punt we’ve had blocked this year. We’ve got to fix that.”
Gulfport recovered its third and final onside kick attempt on the kickoff and managed to pick up three first downs to close out the victory.
“We didn’t give up on each other,” Crosby said. “We knew it was going to be OK. We had each others’ backs.”
The play of Crosby played a big role in giving the Admirals the big lead at halftime. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns with much of his production coming in the first half.
“It was really, really good,” Crosby said of the first half on offense. “We clicked on everything. I think we had two incompletions and I take both of them. We did a heck of a job. It was a great job by the receivers.”
Senior Tommie Johnson was Crosby’s top target, pulling in 11 receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Gulfport senior running back Tyran Gable, who ran four times for 33 yards on the Admirals’ final drive to close it out, finished with 18 carries for 108 yards.
No player proved more crucial in the outcome for Gulfport than senior safety Kyrese Bryant, who came up with a pair of turnovers in the first half, recovering a fumble on the Warriors’ first possession and scrambling 32 yards for a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead with 1:41 left in the second quarter.
“My boys got there and I just scooped and scored,” Bryant said.
In the second quarter, he went high to pull in a D’Iberville pass to set up the Admirals at their own 48.
“He’s been hurt the last two weeks,” Archie said. “We had to get him on the field and get him back in the swing of things.”
The road doesn’t get much easier for Gulfport, hosting Ocean Springs (5-4, 4-1) on Nov. 1 and traveling to rival Biloxi (7-2, 3-2) in the regular season finale.
“We still haven’t played a complete game yet,” Archie said. “The way we played in the first half, we could have continued it on into the second half. We haven’t played our best game yet.”
D’Iberville hosts Harrison Central on Nov. 1 before closing out the regular season with a trip to St. Martin.