NJCAA's Top Team Rolls in Mississippi

POPLARVILLE — Pearl River proved more than worthy of its No. 1 football ranking in the NJCAA here Thursday, as the Wildcats bombarded No. 3-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast 36-22 before a standing room only crowd of some 8,000 in Dobie Holden Stadium.

PRCC led 33-7 beyond the midway point of the final period only to see the Bulldogs rally for 15 points in less than two minutes to cut its lead to 11. The Wildcats answered the comeback with a 22-yard field goal by Brad Bingham of Moss Point to ice the victory and improve to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in South Division play.

Gulf Coast dropped to 2-1 and 0-1.

Fifth-year Wildcat head coach Tim Hatten was elated with the win.

"I'm disappointed that we gave them those two late scores, but what a job out defense did. When we play defense like that, we can beat anybody, anywhere," he said. "We played our best game of the year against a very good football team."

Wildcat running back Seth Hayden is batting a thousand in regards to 100-yard games this season, as the sophomore from Pearl River Central rushed for a career-high 146 yards on 20 carries. In addition, he snagged one pass for 17 and scored three of Pearl River's four touchdowns on the night to bring his total to an MACJC-best eight (52 points total, including one two-point conversion).

"Seth did it again," said Hatten. "He's the best (running back) we've had in my going-on five years here. What can you say...he knows what running a football is all about. He's something else...he's already ran for over 400 yards in three games. That speaks for itself."

PRCC got on the board early when Brad Bingham of Moss Point kicked a 37-yard field goal to cap a 10-play, 59-yard drive on the game's opening possession to put the Wildcats up 3-0 with 10:29 left in the first period.

Five series later, Gulf Coast quarterback Andrew Carcich lost the handle on an errant snap and Justin Brandon recovered for the Wildcats his own 48 as the opening quarter ended. Four snaps later, Hayden scored from the 11. He carried three times for 34 yards on the possession, while quarterback Michael Greco of Lighthouse Point, Fla., hit J.J. Smith of Forrest County AHS with an 18-yard completion to set up Hayden's scoring run. Bingham's PAT made it 10-0 with 13:26 left before the intermission.

The Bulldogs drove to the Wildcat 30 on their ensuing possession, but Gene Anderson of West Marion intercepted Perk quarterback Genario McNealy on a fourth-and-four and returned his pick 30 yards to his own 35. Greco went to work hitting Demetrius Byrd of Miami, Fla., with two completions for 32 yards, Larry Freeman (see photo; by Mitch Deaver) of Fort Meade, Fla., with two for 11, and a five-yarder to Smith to set up Hayden's 12-yard scoring run with 1:29 left in the half on the 14-play drive to end the first half scoring with PRCC on top 16-0. An errant PAT snap saw holder Louis Norman of Sumrall throw incomplete on a two-point conversion.

Gulf Coast picked up its first points of the night when Alec Banks returned the opening kickoff of the second half 53 yards to the Wildcat 42. Larry Warner carried four time over the ensuing five snaps for 28 yards before exiting the game with an ankle injury on an 11-yard run to the 14 with 12:42 left in the third.

Carcich then tossed to Akeem Simmons for 11 to the three, then Albert Williams scored with 12:08 left. Trey Read's PAT made it 16-7.

Carlton Hill, a South Florida transfer from Monticello, Fla., returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to midfield; then snagged a 17-yard completion from Greco on first down. Two snaps later, Hayden scored from the 30. Bingham's extra point made it 23-7 at the 9:54 mark.

After Gulf Coast went three-and-out, the Wildcats drove from their 25 to the Bulldog 22 in seven plays where Bingham kicked a 39-yard field goal to make it 26-7 with just over three minutes left in the third.

The Bulldogs followed with another three-and-out with Cody Samples' 21-yard punt giving PRCC possession at the Bulldog 43. Greco's eight-yard completion to Byrd ended the third period, then a Hayden eight-yard run and a 26-yard catch by Smith set up a one-yard TD run by Bubba Kirksey of Hattiesburg High. Bingham's extra point made ti 33-7 with 13:45 left in the game.

Then Gulf Coast cashed in on two Wildcat turnovers resulting in 14 points in less than two minutes.

On the Bulldogs' possession following Kirksey's score, Sample's 43-yard punt pinned Pearl River at its own seven and Greco fumbled in the endzone on a third-and-12 and Cedric McKinley recovered for a Gulf Coast score. Read booted the PAT to cut PRCC's lead to 33-14.

Pearl River's ensuing possession started at its own 14 where Greco was picked off by Marquis Powell on a third and 10 at the 40 and the Bulldog DB returned it the distance for the score. Carcich zipped a bullet to Austin Divinity for the two-point conversion to make it 33-22 with 5:30 left.

Kenny Robinson of Pearl River Central recovered the ensuing on-side kick at the 50 where Hayden carried four times for 28 yards and Greco kept for five to set up Bingham's 22-yard field goal to end the scoring.

Greco finished the night completing 17 of 27 passes for 187 yards, while Freeman leading the way with seven catches for 61 yards. Byrd and Smith both had four-catch, 46-yard performances.

PRCC had 21 first downs to MGCCC's 11, while the Wildcats finished with 339 total yards (152 rush, 187 pass) to the Bulldogs' 169 (124 rush, 45 pass). Warner ran for 97 yards on 14 carries before exiting game early in the third quarter.

Pearl River was penalized 12 times for 97 yards, while Gulf Coast drew six flags for 55.

The Wildcats travel to Copiah-Lincoln in Wesson next Thursday for a 7 p.m. South Division game.

Elsewhere Around The League

In other action around the league, Jones (3-0, 1-0) defeated East Central (1-2, 0-1) 13-7 in Ellisville, Copiah-Lincoln (2-1, 1-0) defeated Southwest Mississippi (1-2, 0-1) 30-13 in Summit, Hinds (2-1, 0-0) trimmed winless Northeast Mississippi (0-3, 0-0) 14-10 in Raymond, Northwest Mississippi (1-2, 1-0) smashed Holmes (1-2, 0-2) 45-0 in Senatobia, Itawamba (3-0, 1-0) shut out winless Coahoma (0-3, 0-1) 31-0 in Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta (2-1, 1-0) squeaked past East Mississippi (0-3, 0-1) 14-13 in Scooba.


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