POPLARVILLE — Ninth-ranked Pearl River rebounded from its first loss of the 2006 football season in convincing fashion Thursday, taking a dominating 31-14 MACJC South Division victory over East Central here in Dobie Holden Stadium. The Wildcats returned two interceptions for scores en route to the victory to improve to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in division play. The Warriors, on the other hand, dropped to 1-4 and 0-3.
Not only did the three-time defending state champion Wildcats drop a heartbreaking 31-21 road decision to Copiah-Lincoln a week earlier, but they also lost their No. 1-ranking in the weekly NJCAA football poll which they had held for three straight weeks.
Fifth-year PRCC head coach Tim Hatten was pleased to get back on the winning track.
"It was a tremendous game defensively. We played with great intensity which was something we didn't do in our loss to Co-Lin," he said. "Actually, we only had one bad series and we kind of gift wrapped that score for them when we gave them field position off a kick return.
"But after that, we put it on them."
Pearl River tallied scored 14 points in a span of 38 seconds to open the scoring. On the first possession of the game, the Warriors went three and out with punter Grey LaPrade shanking a 19-yarder from his own 26 to returner J.J. Smith of Forrest County AHS who returned the boot 22 yards to the 23. Five plays later, Seth Hayden of Pearl River Central ran it in from the 11. Brad Bingham of Moss Point booted the PAT to make it 7-0 with 9:52 left in the first period.
Warrior quarterback Mike Dunn was picked off by linebacker Keon Wilson of Jacksonville, Fla., on the first snap of the ensuing possession and ran it back 30 yards for a TD at the 9:14 mark. Bingham added the PAT to make it 14-0.
Three series later, East Central put its first points on the board when Roosevelt Ross capped a 14-play, 52-yard scoring drive from the one with 10:56 left in the half. LaPrade's extra point made it 14-7.
But PRCC padded its lead three minutes later when quarterback Adam Robin hit Larry Freeman of Fort Meade, Fla., with a 54-yard scoring pass. Robin, a redshirt freshman from Pearl River Central, went five-of-five in the five-play drive; including a 15-yard completion to former prep teammate Hayden to push the Wildcats across midfield. Bingham's PAT made it 21-7.
Bingham booted a 40-yard field goal on the final play of the half to make it 24-7 at the intermission.
East Central's Jamar Lawrence cut the Wildcats' lead to 10 early in the third when he picked off Robin at his own 45 and returned it for a score. LaPrade's PAT made it 24-14 with 12:18 left, then Robin tossed a second pick to Gary Lindsey four plays into the ensuing possession.
Two snaps later, Wildcat DB Brandon Burns of Columbiana, Ala., picked off Dunn at the Warrior 30 and ran it back for a score. Bingham's extra point ended the scoring.
Pearl River drove inside the 10 on the game's final possession where Freeman, in relief of Robin, took a knee to end the game.
Robin and Freeman are taking the snaps after starting QB Mike Greco of Lighthouse Point, Fla., broke his collarbone on the final play of the first half in the loss to Co-Lin.
"Adam hasn't started a game since he was in high school and that was in 2004," Hatten said. "He didn't play badly, but after that second turnover we decided to put Larry in...he did a tremendous job."
PRCC finished the game with 18 first downs to ECCC's 10 (only three in the second half), while the Wildcats generated 287 yards (225 pass, 62 rush) of total offense to the Warriors' 128 (110 pass, 12 rush).
Pearl River completed 20 of 33 passes (two interceptions), while East Central was 13 of 22 (two interceptions). Freeman was 11 of 19 for 120 yards, while Robin was nine of 16 for 105. Hayden led all runners in the game with 51 yards on 16 carries, while catching three passes for 29 yards. Smith had a game-high six reception for 68 yards, while Freeman had two for 59.
The Wildcats drew nine penalties for 66 yards, while the Warriors had five flags for 40.
PRCC's Phillip Sullivan of Meridian punted four times for a 32.5-yard average, while LaPrade had four boots for a 20.5-yard average.
Elsewhere Around The League
In other Thursday action around the league, Jones (5-0, 1-0) came from behind to bump off Hinds (2-3, 0-2) 27-17 in Raymond to keep its perfect record intact, Southwest Mississippi (3-2, 1-1) defeated non-division rival Mississippi Delta 31-10 in Summit, Northwest Mississippi (3-2, 3-0) pounded East Mississippi (1-4, 1-2) 55-22 in Scooba, Coahoma (1-4, 0-2) defeated Holmes (1-4, 0-3) 26-13 in Clarksdale, Itawamba (4-1, 2-0) defeated winless Northeast Mississippi (0-5, 0-2) 29-24 in Fulton. Mississippi Gulf Coast (3-1, 1-1) hosts Copiah-Lincoln (3-1, 2-0) Saturday in Perkinston.