No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast’s first trip to the playoffs since 2016 won’t be easy, that’s for sure.
The Bulldogs (9-0) take on two-time defending national champion East Mississippi (6-3) at A.L. May Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“They’re as good as always,” Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. “They’re very explosive at the offensive skill positions. They have a very talented and efficient quarterback, and he’s leading the nation in most passing categories. He presents a lot of challenges with his ability to get the ball to those athletes on the perimeter.”
Connor Neville completes 64 percent of his passes and averages 273.7 yards per game in the air. Jason Brownlee ranks second in the country at 106.3 receiving yards per game and 12 touchdowns.
Wright said the Lions defense looks like they always do: long, big, fast, athletic. That’s a recipe that annually makes them one of the best defenses in the nation, and East Mississippi has won five of the last eight national titles.
Gulf Coast continues to grind in a soggy week of preparation.
“We’re always trying to get better and trying to find ways to win, to put it simply,” he said. “We’re just trying to come in every day and approach practice and preparation in a way to get these kids in a position to win.”
The Bulldogs lead the country in first downs per game (26.2) and are second in third-down conversions (50 percent). A big reason for that success lies along the offensive line, where sophomore guard Brandon Tartavoulle has started every game this season on the interior.
“He’s had a great two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Wright said. “He’s big, athletic and strong. He’s been a leader for us. He’s a fun kid to be around. I’m glad he’s been here for two years and am really anxious to see where he winds up next. I’m sure he’ll be a starter wherever he is next and will have a great career at a four-year school.”
Gulf Coast leads East Mississippi 31-29-4 in the all-time series.
WHO: No. 13 East Mississippi (6-3, 4-2 MACJC North) at No. 1 MGCCC (8-0, 6-0 MACJC South)
WHAT: MACJC Semifinal
WHEN: 7 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: A.L. May Memorial Stadium, Perkinston
LISTEN: SuperTalk Mississippi 103.1 FM