High School Sports

Biloxi football offers a colorful history over last century

Doug Barber

Special to the Sun Herald

 Biloxi running back Arthur Cantrelle, who later played at LSU, carries the ball against East Ascension, La. Cantrelle was named as the Big Eight Conference MVP as Biloxi finished as state runner-up to Meridian.
INDIAN ECHO YEARBOOK/1968 Biloxi running back Arthur Cantrelle, who later played at LSU, carries the ball against East Ascension, La. Cantrelle was named as the Big Eight Conference MVP as Biloxi finished as state runner-up to Meridian.

There was a time when the Biloxi football colors were black-and-gold, not red and white.

And when the football team was called the Yellow Jackets, not Indians.

The colors and nickname changed in 1925, two of a multitude of interesting facts in the history of Biloxi High football and football on the Coast.

Those who keep up with the Biloxi-Gulfport football rivalry have seen the yearly offering from the Sun Herald about the series from 1920 to today. But the two football teams had played prior to that but newspaper coverage was sporadic until 1920. Actually, Biloxi and Gulfport met three times in 1908 between Thanksgiving and mid-December with Gulfport winning two out of three, including a forfeit.

One of the ironies in recent years is that Jackson-Callaway has played the nemesis to Biloxi in some of its biggest games. In 1984, Callaway upended Biloxi 24-22 in the Class 5A South State championship game, denying the Indians a chance to meet Starkville for the state title.

And nine years earlier, Callaway beat Joe Sabbatini's Indians 14-5 in the Big Eight title game.

Championship football often is cyclical, and that is true for Biloxi.

Biloxi enjoyed a dominating run from 1926 to 1930 under Coach T.L. Gaddy with players like Edgar Byrd and Earl Mattina. The Indians were state co-champions with Sunflower High in 1926 after a 7-7 tie after overtime in the state championship game. They came back to finish as state runner-up in 1927, losing to Philadelphia 12-0 in the state championship game at the Gulfport Fairgrounds. Those 12 points were the only points Biloxi gave up that season.

Then Gaddy's team won three straight Big Eight championships after the largest schools in the state formed their own conference. Gaddy's 1930 team was 9-0 and the 1928 team went 9-0-1.

It would be 32 years before Biloxi claimed another Big Eight and state title in 1962. At the same time Biloxi got a revival under Willie D. Wiles and players like A.J. Holloway, Gulfport was surging as well under Lindy Callahan and the 60s and 70s would see both schools as perennial state title contenders.

Wiles' '62 team went 10-0-1 in winning the Big Eight title with players like Arthur Gill, Elbert Trone and Chuck Wilkes. Then John Williams -- Biloxi's winningest coach at 103-48-3 in 14 seasons -- took the Indians to an 11-0 record and Big Eight/state title in 1968 behind All-American quarterback Ric Pitalo, a strong defense and formidable running game, one year after falling to Meridian in the state title game.

Sabbatini (1972-82) had the second best coaching record at Biloxi at 78-38-2. Gaddy was 46-10-4 in six seasons (a 76.6 winning percentage) while Wiles went 53-39-3 in nine seasons.

Of more recent vintage, John Shannon's 2011 Region 4-6A title team was the highest scoring team in school history - 40.7 points a game - in going 10-3. That team featured players such as Jaylen Woullard, Devoriae Martin, Tevaris McCormick and Scott Austin. Shannon's 2012 team averaged 39.0 points a game and the 2013 team put up 31.8 points a game.

There have been more than enough great moments in the Biloxi-Gulfport series but certainly the back-to-back Admiral wins in 1990 to end the regular season and start the playoffs derailed one of the better Biloxi teams. The 1968 game -- won by Biloxi 26-14 -- was the renewal of the Gulfport-Biloxi rivalry after it was halted for 10 years after the 1957 game due to a fight between the two teams.

Kevin Fant and Moss Point eliminated the Indians in the second round of the state playoffs in 1997 in another memorable game when Biloxi had put together one of its better teams since 1984.

And then there are those oddities in scheduling. At a time when Gulfport scheduled a home-and-home series with Ottawa, Illinois, in 1939 and 1940, Biloxi also chose to go long distance. Biloxi played a home-and-home series with Plainview, Texas - games that were played on Dec. 30, 1938 and Dec. 29, 1939. Biloxi lost at Texas and won at home under Coach Engle May.

Those were the longest road trips in Biloxi school history except for Meninak Bowl appearances in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1966 and 1972.

Biloxi has appeared in 25 postseason bowl games (21 in the Shrimp Bowl) and six Shrimp Bowl kickoff classics.

Note: Research from Sun Herald/Daily Herald files and Biloxi yearbooks.