The wind howled off Beardslee Lake into Jerry Alexander Stadium Friday night, causing fans to shiver and huddle for warmth in the aluminum bleachers.
For those spectators who showed up unprepared for the teeth-chattering blast of cold air, there was no escaping the wind.
At the most decisive moment of Friday night’s Stone High-Moss Point playoff game, it was only fitting that the outcome proved to be at the mercy of that wind.
Moss Point junior quarterback Ruben Lee connected with Larry Simmons on a perfectly placed 5-yard touchdown pass with 4:45 remaining, cutting the Stone High lead to 23-22.
The score ended a run of 21 unanswered points by Stone High behind a breakout performance from sophomore running back Carlos Brown.
Moss Point head coach Eugene Harmon knew his kicker, junior Savion Burkes, was capable of booting the ball through the uprights for an extra point to tie the game. Just two weeks prior, Burkes kicked a last-second 35-yard field goal to clinch the Region 8-4A title in a 31-28 win over Pass Christian.
However, Stone had shown all night that it was capable of eating up yards and clock behind Brown, who carried the ball a whopping 46 times for 269 yards and three touchdowns.
Harmon decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win, putting the game back in his quarterback’s hands.
Lee took the snap, dropped back and saw Burkes, who also plays running back, all alone in the left corner of the end zone. In fact, he was so open that Lee didn’t feel the need to put much velocity on the toss. He lofted the ball high.
“It sailed,” Lee said. “Usually, the ball would have been perfect if there was no wind. But the wind knocked it this way, knocked it back that way.”
Burkes had to charge back toward the center of the end zone and dive to barely get his hands under the ball, narrowly keeping it off the turf.
“Savion just got under the ball and made a beautiful catch,” Lee said. “He bailed me out. That’s what I expect from my receivers.”
Burkes couldn’t help but smile when asked about his big catch after the game.
“I was excited,” he said. “I just had to make sure I caught the ball.”
The two-point conversion proved to be the decisive score of the game, giving Moss Point a 24-23 victory to advance to the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. The Tigers will hit the road in the next round, traveling to play a Newton County team is 7-5, coming off an 18-14 win over Lanier.
While the two-point conversion was the difference in the game, the Moss Point defense had to step up in the final moments as Stone High gradually worked its way down the field, trailing by a point and determined to reward Brown for his iron-man performance.
Helped by six carries for 44 yards from Brown, Stone High worked its way from its own 30 to the Moss Point 25 with 1:25 remaining. A third-down pass play amounted to no yards gained, forcing the Tomcats to go for it on fourth down with three yards to go.
Again, the Tomcats handed the ball to Brown, who pounded his way up the middle for 2 more yards – 1 yard short to turn the ball over on downs and end the rally.
Harmon acknowledged that his defense had several missed tackles on the night, but the Tigers (4-6) proved up to the challenge on that fourth down.
“They gave it to their best player on the field and we made the stop,” Harmon said. “There was a swarm of them out there.
“When we came off the field, we had three of them laying on the ground. We had one with a deep cut on his forearm, another one with a banged up knee, another had a shoulder injury. They gave it their all.”
Nobody can accuse the Tomcats of not giving everything they had Friday night, and no player better exemplified that effort than Brown.
“It’s very tough when you’ve got a kid as young as (Brown), and we had a lot young kids out there playing hard today. It’s a tough one,” Stone High coach John Feaster said. “I’ve got to give all credit to Moss Point. They showed up and played hard. The better team won the ball game.”
Moss Point scored a quick 16 points on two touchdowns to start the third quarter, helped by a fumble recovery on Stone High’s kickoff return to the begin the second half and an onside kick recovery.
Lee passed for three touchdowns, all in the second half, and completed 14 of 27 passes for 218 yards to help break open a game that Stone High led 2-0 at halftime due to a safety on a failed Moss Point punt just before the half.
Stone High’s season comes to an end with a record of 3-7.