Lightning in the area delayed the start of the first-round football playoff game by 30 minutes at McComb Friday night, but, once the game started, the penalties took center stage. Poplarville benefited from four McComb touchdowns being called back on penalties and overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit to win 21-20.
Austin Bolton, who finished with more than 150 yards and two touchdowns, scored on a 17-yard run for the Hornets (7-4) with 6:40 to play in the third quarter to cut McComb’s lead to 20-14.
DaQuan Smith of McComb (8-3) had a 62-yard touchdown run called back on a holding with 0:05 remaining in the third quarter.
McComb’s Ka’Derrion Mason recovered a fumble by Poplarville’s Peytan Graham with 10:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. Smith had a 26-yard touchdown run called back on the next play for holding and McComb turned the ball over on downs.
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Graham’s scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 5:01 remaining in the game to give Poplarville a 21-20 lead it did not relinquish.
“I’m speechless right now,” Hornets’ head coach Jay Beech said. “I don’t know what to say. Our kids, we forgot about the score after half. We come out. We say we’re going to take it one play at a time. We weren’t worried that we were down by 13. We didn’t think about the score. I’m so proud enough. I can’t say enough about them.”
The Tigers had a chance to come back, but quarterback Venchenza McCray was intercepted by Poplarville’s Camden Ray with 2:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Hornets managed to run out the clock.
“I feel like we played well enough to win the game tonight,” Tigers’ head coach Malcolm Jones said. “We just came up short. I think we may have had four touchdowns called back. It’s hard to play the team and the officials. It seemed like every time we would break one, a flag would come down. I’m not going to make any excuses. We didn’t get it done. Back to the drawing board, but I thought the kids played hard.”
Jones said all the Tigers have to look at themselves and not the officials to get further in the postseason next year. He adding the mistakes are human error and officials cannot be expected to call a perfect game.
Mistakes and penalties plagued both teams throughout the first half, but the Tigers had the 13-point edge at halftime.
Two McComb touchdowns that were called back were runs in the first half and both penalties were illegal procedures. One was a 53-yard run by McCray in the first quarter and the other was a 23-yard run by Webber in the second quarter.
The Tigers lost the ball on downs after Webber’s touchdown was called back.
However, McComb redeemed itself after McCray’s touchdown was called back. He ran for a 25-yard touchdown seven plays later to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead with 7:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Poplarville kept the drive alive with a roughing the passer penalty on a third down and 17.
Gerardo Soto’s ensuing kickoff bounced off a Poplarville player and was recovered by Vincent Jones of the McComb.
The Tigers went three and out and were forced to punt after Hornets’ defensive end Dalton Richardson sacked McCray.
McComb lost a fumble on the game’s first play from scrimmage, which was recovered by Graham of Poplarville. Nicholas Kirschbaum of the Hornets missed the field goal and the Hornets were unable to capitalize on the turnover.
Following a Jordan Wells 38-yard punt, McComb started on its own 1-yard line with 7:53 remaining in the first half. McCray ran for a 99-yard touchdown two plays later to put the Tigers ahead 13-0 with 6:53 remaining in the first half.
McCray finished with 154 yards passing for one touchdown and one interception to go with 156 rushing yards for two touchdowns.
McCray also completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Smith to give McComb a 20-7 halftime lead.
Poplarville’s one touchdown in the first half came on a 12-yard run by Bolton. It was set up by a 42-yard completed pass from Hornets’ quarterback Antonio Barnes to Tristan Nichols. That was Poplarville’s only completed pass in the first half.
Poplarville will be at St. Stanislaus for the second round at 7 p.m. Friday.