Patrick Ochs

Is Picayune for real this year? You bet

Picayune fullback Blake Merrifield turns upfield on a swing pass during the first quarter of their game against D'Iberville at Warrior Stadium in D'Iberville on Friday Aug. 26, 2016.
Picayune fullback Blake Merrifield turns upfield on a swing pass during the first quarter of their game against D'Iberville at Warrior Stadium in D'Iberville on Friday Aug. 26, 2016. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

No. 4 Picayune has been a runaway success early this season.

The Maroon Tide (2-0) struggled through 2015 due to a number of early injuries and other issues, but Picayune has bounced back in a big way.

Through two games the Maroon Tide out-scored Class 6A D’Iberville and St. Martin 91-28.

The Tide out-scored a D’Iberville team that’s going through a transition, 35-7, to open the season. Picayune then held down one of the state’s most dangerous offenses in St. Martin in Friday’s 56-21 victory.

Not a bad start for a team that was out-scored 119-63 against the same opponents a year ago.

“We just believe in what we do,” Picayune Memorial High School coach Dodd Lee said Friday.

Consider St. Martin coach Eddie Wayne Whitehead to be among Picayune’s believers.

“They have a great running back and system. They work hard at it and perfect it,” he said after Friday’s game. “When I looked at them on film, they reminded me of his old state championship teams.

“No doubt about it, I think they're going to win it all this year.”

Running for days

Picayune has always had a number of impact running backs under Lee and this year is no exception. What’s different about Picayune is that while it’s still a run-heavy offense — they only attempted three passes in the first half against St. Martin, with two going for touchdowns — the Tide is also playing with tempo, a more common characteristic of spread offenses.

“We're a lot faster tempo than people think,” Lee said.

Leading the attack is running back Joshua Littles.

One of the region’s top rushers a year ago despite battling an injury for much of the season, Littles is back and already has 372 yards and five touchdowns on 42 carries. Although he’s just 5-foot-6, Lee calls Littles one of Picayune’s strongest players, pound for pound.

Littles is good at finding the seam and sprinting down field without hesitating, hitting defenses while they’re still trying to figure out which Tide player has the ball.

The Tide didn’t miss a beat Friday when they substituted junior Shaun Anderson for Littles. In fact, the 5-foot-8 back has averaged a gaudy 12.07 yards on 14 carries. Fullback Blake Merrifield also had a 31-yard touchdown scamper to go with scores of 23, 8, 80, 2 and 70 yards by the other two backs. V.J. Holt is yet another running back who can break a big run at any moment.

“We have to have that to be successful,” Lee said of the running back rotation.

Both ways

Lee said he’s asking more of his players than ever. For example: In addition to carrying the offense for much of the night, Anderson and Littles also played important roles in the secondary. Littles made several big tackles in space against St. Martin and Anderson had a first-half interception that helped extend Picayune’s lead to 42-7.

Tough defense

Picayune’s also been impressive defensively, as evidenced by holding St. Martin to its second-lowest point total in two seasons.

David Baker, Brian Taylor and Louis Graham have been three of the main playmakers defensively, each flying around the field to make bone-jarring tackles. Baker and Taylor, who were Picayune’s leading tacklers a year ago have 19 and 18 tackles through two games. Graham has 19, three behind team leader, sophomore Jeremiah Stallings.

Up next

Even with the early success, Lee isn’t quite ready to schedule a parade down Goodyear Boulevard in Picayune.

“This is one of my favorite teams ever, but I know how things can change with one play,” he said.

Picayune continues its difficult non-region schedule this week, hosting Gulfport (2-1). The Tide then travel to Harrison Central (2-0), which is tied with Gulfport at No. 2 in the latest Sun Herald poll.

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