Pearl River Moves to MACJC Championship Game

BOONEVILLE — Defending NJCAA football champion Pearl River earned a shot at a third straight MACJC state championship after ousting second-ranked and previously unbeaten Northeast Mississippi 27-20 in the semi-finals of the state playoffs here Saturday in Keenum Stadium.

The fifth-ranked Wildcats will now take on arch-rival Mississippi Gulf Coast this Saturday in A.L. May Stadium in Perkinston after the ninth-ranked Bulldogs disposed of Itawamba 69 45 in their hard-fought semi-final playoff bout at home. Gulf Coast handed 7-1 PRCC its only loss of the season with a 55-47 victory Oct. 20 in Perkinston.

Pearl River snapped a 20-20 stalemate for the victory over the Tigers with just over a minute left when All-American quarterback Jimmy Oliver engineered a six-play, 80-yard game winning drive, capping the late rally with a 12-yard TD pass to Brandon Fountain.

"It was just a great football game between two great football teams," said fourth-year PRCC head coach Tim Hatten. "Somebody had to win and fortunately it was us. But hand it to Northeast. They are the best team we've faced in my four years here and are were very worthy of their national ranking.

"I tip my hat to (Northeast) Coach (Andy) Greening and his guys. This one could've gone either way."

PRCC wasted little time lighting up the scoreboard as the Wildcats scored on the third play of the game's opening series when Mike McClendon sprinted around right end for a 64-yard touchdown. Scott Hillery's extra point kick made it 7-0 Pearl River with a mere 41 seconds gone in the game.

Northeast answered McClendon's scoring run with a three-and-out and Pearl River regained possession at its own 13, only to see the Tigers' touted defense stop the Wildcats on a fourth-and-goal at the one 12 plays later when Oliver hit running back Gabe Fairman with a screen good for a minus-three yards.

The drive was highlighted by Oliver's 56-yard completion on a third-and-nine at his own 14 to J.J. Smith, who finished with a game-high 128 yards on eight catches. Five plays later, Oliver hit Kyle Sellers with a 10-yarder for a first-and-goal at the Tiger three.

Two series later, Northeast mounted a 13-play, 78-yard drive to the Pearl River one only to see the Wildcats stop running back Cameron Montgomery cold on fourth down. The Tigers converted a fourth-and-six at their own 37 in the drive off a fake punt that resulted in a 30-yard gainer by Gilbert McThunnel. Three snaps later, Northeast was eyeing a first-and-goal at the PRCC three.

After an exchange of punts, Northeast's Clarence Wright intercepted Oliver's deflected pass at his own 40 and returned it to the Wildcat 48 where quarterback Bruce Hall engineered a six-play drive for the tying score. The sophomore connected on three of three pass attempts for 33 yards on the drive, while keeping for another 12. His last pass went to Montgomery on a screen from the 17 for the TD. Jay Roberts' PAT tied it up at 7-7 with 3:48 left before intermission for the final point of the first half.

On Northeast's second possession of the second half, Hall hit 6-foot-6 wide receiver Lonnell DeWalt with a 77-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the series to give the Tigers a 14-7 cushion after Roberts' extra point kick with 9:06 left in the third.

Pearl River answered the score with a six-play drive to the Northeast 43 where Oliver quick kicked a 42-yarder on a fourth and three to pin the Tigers at their own one. One snap later, Wildcat linebacker Marquis McBeath picked off Hall at the seven and rambled in for the score. Hiller's PAT tied it up at 14-14 with 6:39 left in the third.

PRCC held NECC on downs at its own 48 five plays into the Tigers' ensuing drive, then Brandon Fountain fumbled away a two-yard completion completion from Oliver one play later at midfield.Northeast's ideal field position went for naught, however, and Andy Keen's 38-yard punt five snaps later pinned the Wildcats at their own seven.

Oliver got PRCC out of the hole with a second-down, 17-yard keeper, then connected on five passes for 51 yards over the next 11 plays for his go-ahead toss to Smith from the 19 with 12:16 left in the game. Smith also snagged two other throws for a combined 19 yards in the drive, while Ole Miss transfer Danny Bell caught an 11-yarder and Seth Hayden a 20-yarder. Hillery's extra point kick was blocked, but PRCC led 20-14.

After the Tigers went three and out, Pearl River drove 56 yards to the Northeast 25 where Hillery was wide on a 35-yard field goal attempt. An exchange of punts followed before Hall fumbled and defensive end Brian Coulter recovered for Pearl River at the Northeast 32. Two snaps later, a muffed handoff exchange between Oliver and Fairman saw the Tigers recover at their own 30 where Hall immediately connected with Ralph Curtis on a 70-yard touchdown throw with 2:36 left to tie it up at 20-20 after Roberts was wide on his extra point attempt.

Pearl River immediately went to work with its two-minute offense and drove 80 yards in six plays for the game-winning score. Oliver went three-for-four in the drive, including two completions to Bell for 38 and 13 yards before hitting Fountain for a 12-yard TD strike. Oliver also kept twice for 17 yards in the series. Hillery booted the PAT to make it 27-20 with 1:05 left.

But Justin Wilkerson returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield and Hall hit DeWalt for 23 and Charles Twilley for five to reach the Wildcat 30, only to throw incomplete on a fourth-and-five where Oliver then took a knee to end the game.

Pearl River finished the game with 23 first downs to Northeast's 14, while the Wildcats generated 498 yards of total offense (301 pass, 197 rush) to the Tigers' 363 (308 pass, 55 rush).
McClendon rushed for a game-high 108 yards on 12 carries for his second 100-yard game of the season, while Oliver, who connected on 24 of 40 passes (one interception) for all of PRCC's passing yardage, kept 10 times for 54 yards. Hayden had 33 yards on five attempts, while catching a pass for 20 yards.

Besides Smith's game-high receiving effort, Bell had three catches for 62 yards and Fountain five for 49 to lead the Wildcats; while DeWalt had four receptions for 124 yards, Curtis six for 80, and Twilley three for 42 to pace Northeast.

Hall completed 10 of 13 (one interception) passes for 255 yards, while backup QB Bryan West connected on five of seven throws for 53. West led Tiger rushers with five keepers for 53 yards.

PRCC was penalized 10 times for 85 yards, while NECC drew three flags for 31.

Wildcat punter Tim Kulikowski had four kicks for a 35.25-yard average, while Oliver had two boots for a 43.5 average. Keen punted seven times for a 40.5-yard average.

A 2 p.m. kickoff is set for Saturday's MACJC championship game in Perkinston.

Mississippi Gulf Coast 69, Itawamba 45
Mississippi Gulf Coast's Dontrell Savage, the MACJC leading rusher, ran for 132 yards and running mate Bernard Seymour scored four touchdowns to lead the ninth-ranked Bulldogs to a 69-45 victory in Perkinston Saturday. Gulf Coast jumped out to a 48-10 lead early in the third quarter before holding off an Itawamba comeback. The Bulldogs improved to 7-1, while Indians ended their season at 6-2.


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