CARRIERE - The Pearl River Central football team entered Friday night's game against Pascagoula in a three-way tie with the Panthers and Picayune atop Region 4-5A. Following an emotional 17-7 win, PRC stands alone.
With the win over Pascagoula and Long Beach's stunning 36-34 overtime victory at Picayune, the Blue Devils (8-1, 5-0) are in first place by themselves with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Emotions stayed close to the surface for PRC on senior night and that helped it take the field with plenty of energy. The Blue Devils dictated the game up front on both sides of the ball and controlled the game defensively.
"(Pascagoula) had a ton of athletes," PRC senior linebacker Steven Galladoro said. "We knew the only way we'd do it is if we came out more physical, more intense. We did what we needed to do."
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Galladoro had a big hand in the outcome, pulling in an interception in the second quarter and providing the game-clinching sack on fourth down and under 2 minutes remaining with Pascagoula inside the PRC 10.
PRC held Pascagoula to just 14 yards of offense in the first half and 127 yards total in an impressive defensive performance. PRC forced two turnovers, interceptions by Galladoro and safety Dalton Howe.
"They were whipping our tails up front," Pascagoula coach Lewis Sims said of the first half. "Our backs weren't hitting the hole and we weren't staying on blocks. We were getting physically abused."
Pascagoula (6-3, 4-1) managed to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the third quarter on a 27-yard touchdown toss from Granlund Torjusen to Torique Griffin, capping off the second half's opening drive.
Other than the one successful Pascagoula drive, PRC stymied the Panthers throughout.
"Our defensive coaches had a great game plan," PRC head coach Eric Collins said. "We knew we had to stop (Pascagoula running back Reginald Hunter). We had to get him in the backfield. Our coaches did a great job and our players did a great job executing.
"Sims is a great football coach and he made adjustments in the second half, making it a real battle. We love playing against those guys."
Hunter was held to 15 carries for 57 yards.
PRC set the tone on the game's opening possession with a 17-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 7:40. Christian Roberts finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Blue Devils the 7-0 lead.
"We came out and our goal was to be more physical than them," Roberts said, echoing his teammates on defense. "They were bigger than us. We have a small (offensive line), but we have heart. We came out more physical and we achieved our goal." Roberts, a senior, ran 25 times for 131 yards and a touchdown to lead the PRC rushing attack. Hunter Holifield, another senior, ran the ball 15 times for 76 yards.
Junior Michael Tatman also contributed 16 carries for 46 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run that answered Pascagoula's lone score in the second half to give PRC a 14-7 lead with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.
PRC padded its lead with a crucial 27-yard field goal by Dylan Bernius with 5:11 remaining. It was the first field goal of the season for Bernius, a senior
"Early in the season, our kicking game struggled," Collins said. "You can see the improvement, week in and week out."
PRC has two difficult regular season road games remaining at Hattiesburg and Picayune, but Friday's win puts it in good position to host a playoff game.
"That was a huge game," Galladoro said. "These seniors have been playing together since Pee Wee football. We came out tonight and made sure we'll get to wear our black jerseys at least one more time."