ST. MARTIN -- Heading into Friday's 4-6A showdown at Joe Barlow Stadium, Harrison Central knew it had to limit St. Martin's big play ability and the Yellow Jackets hoped it could break off a few electric plays to pick up a second region win.
St. Martin got the better of the showdown, scoring on five plays of 21 or more yards to snap the Red Rebels' winning streak with a 42-14 victory.
"I thought the defense played really hard and the offense made some big plays," St. Martin coach Eddie Wayne Whitehead said. "We're a big play team."
Harrison Central (3-5, 2-1 Region 4-6A) broke the shutout late in the first half when St. Martin botched a punt from deep in its own territory. Charvous Gandy snatched the ball and rumbled into the end zone to bring the score to 14-7.
The Yellow Jackets (7-1, 2-1) quickly responded with a three-and-out defensive stand sandwiched by two one-play drives.
Receiver Kalem Reddix slowed down enough to grab an under-thrown ball and out-run his defender 46 yards for the first touchdown. On St. Martin's next offensive play, Kaleb Clark caught a receiver screen on the right side and cut up the middle of the field virtually untouched for a 43-yard score to put the home Yellow Jackets ahead 28-7.
"We get that scoop and score and it's 14-7 with four minutes to go into the half and then bam-bam they hit 14," HCHS coach Casey Cain said. "That's what killed us. Those 14 unanswered points really did us in."
After registering just one first down in the first half, Harrison Central's offense began to come to life in the second half but was ultimately unable to punctuate drives with touchdowns.
Tavis Williams scored on a 2-yard run to bring the Red Rebels within 35-14 late in the third quarter. Harrison Central had five other drives that stalled inside of St. Martin's 30. One was on a possible fourth-down conversion inside the 25 that was fumbled. The Yellow Jackets' defense held strong on a fourth-and-2 from the 14 and forced a fumble on a third-and-3 from the 18. The defense also stuffed Williams on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. Reddix later picked off Williams and returned it 75 yards for the game's final score.
"I'm really proud of our defense. It was a big challenge for us this week," Whitehead said. "Their line is huge, their running backs run really hard and I wasn't sure if we could stop them but we did the job."
Looking ahead, Cain said his team will need to get better at moving the chains when it's just a couple of yards for a first.
"I was proud of the way they fought in the second half but we have to convert when it's fourth and short," he said. "We have to get that. If we don't, we're not going to be successful."
Junior Peyton Piglia was active on defense for St. Martin and helped fit the gaps to limit Harrison Central's running backs.
"He's just a tough guy. He's 175 pounds and runs a 5.1 (second 40), but he gets after it," Whitehead said. "He can play for us."
St. Martin took an early 14-0 lead on a 21-yard touchdown grab by Clark on the opening possession and a 6-yard run by Wayne Overman early in the second quarter.
Tyler Polk opened the scoring in the third quarter with a 55-yard run.
Overman completed 6 of 13 passes, but five of them went for 30 or more yards and he finished with 183 on the night.
"My job is to get the ball into their hands as fast as I can," Overman said. "We have a lot of athletes who can make plays, so as long as I get it there when it's supposed to be there I trust them to make plays."
Williams completed 8 of 15 passes for 137 yards. Keon Moore led HCHS with 87 yards rushing. Polk finished with 110 yards to lead St. Martin. Overman rushed for 83.
St. Martin will host Biloxi on Friday. Harrison Central travels to Gulfport.