ELLISVILLE — Yogi Berra's legendary quote of quotes — "It ain't over ‘til its over" — fit the bill to a tee here Saturday in Bobcat Stadium on the Jones Junior College campus.
Seventh-ranked Pearl River trailed fourth-ranked Jones County 24-13 with under five minutes left in a crucial MACJC South Division football match up, but rallied back with 15 unanswered points to hand the then-undefeated Bobcats a 28-24 Homecoming defeat.
Wide receiver Demetrius Byrd of Miami, Fla., snagged a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Carlton Hill with 56 seconds remaining to ice the hard-fought victory to propel PRCC's overall record to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in league play, while Jones dropped to 6-1 and 3-1.
Hill entered the game under center to kickoff the second half after playing wide receiver in the previous six-and-a-half Wildcat outings and the sophomore South Florida transfer from Monticello, Fla., put on a stunning fourth-quarter show that wowed the capacity crowd witnessing the slugfest played on Sim Cooley Field.
Hill completed 12 of 24 passes for 170 yards (one interception), while running for another 51 yards on seven keepers — including one for a four-yard touchdown at the 3:19 mark of the final period.
"I think we've found a quarterback," said fifth-year PRCC head coach Tim Hatten, who saw 2006's original starter Michael Greco go down with a broken collarbone on the last snap of the first half of the Wildcats' 31-21 loss to Copiah-Lincoln in game four of the season.
Larry Freeman, a sophomore wide receiver-quarterback from Fort Meade, Fla., got the QB call following Greco's injury and took all of the first-half snaps Saturday before relinquishing the position to Hill.
Moving back to the wide receiver spot, Freeman shined in the second half; catching six passes from Hill for 109 yards. He was nine of 19 (one interception) through the air for 110 yards in the first half, while running for 48 yards on 11 carries. All told, Freeman finished the afternoon with 267 all-purpose yards.
"Carlton does a lot of things with his feet...he sees a lot of things," Hatten said. "I think the old Wildcats could be back next week (against Southwest Mississippi for PRCC's Homecoming) and we could be able to throw it around a lot more."
After taking the opening kickoff and driving to its own 46, Jones faced a fourth-and-seven only to see the deep snap to punter Brandan Sellers sail over his head and the Hill recover at the Bobcat four. Freeman kept for three to the one on second down, then fumbled it away on a fourth-and-goal.
Jones' three ensuing snaps resulted in only a yard and Wildcat defender Brandon Burns of Columbiana, Ala., burst through the line to block Sellers' punt in the endzone and recover it for a TD. Brad Bingham of Moss Point booted the extra point to make it 7-0 with 7:05 left in the first.
Bingham's 29-yard field goal a minute-and-a-half into the second quarter padded the Wildcats' lead to 10-0. Bingham's boot capped a seven-play, 63-yard drive to the Jones 11, highlighted by a 42-yard Freeman completion to Byrd three plays into the series.
The Bobcats answered quickly. Starting at its own 37 on the ensuing possession, Jones quarterback Caleb Callahan hit receiver Deran Hamilton with a 21-yard TD pass to cap an eight-play drive with 10:01 left before the intermission. Callahlan, a freshman from Varnell, Ga., went four-for-four for 52 yards in the series. Sellers' PAT cut the Wildcats lead to 10-7.
The Bobcats turned it over via a fumble at midfield on their next possession, then Freeman threw his only interception of the game four snaps later when Ellis Lankster picked off a deflected pass at the goalline and returned it 68 yards to the Wildcat 32. Jones drove to the Wildcat 18 in six plays, setting up Sellers 36-yard field goal to tie it up at 10-10 with 3:04 left in the half.
Bingham kicked a 38-yard field goal to cap a 12-play, 44-yard drive to the Bobcat 21 as the first-half clock expired to put PRCC up 13-10 at the intermission. Freeman went five-for-six for 37 yards in the series and kept for 28 yards to move the Wildcats to the Jones six, but was sacked for a minus-15 to set up Bingham's go-ahead boot.
The Bobcats took their first lead of the afternoon on the first play of the final period when running back Jasper Ducksworth scored on a 12-yard run to cap an 11-play, 70-yard drive with 14:54 left. Callahan converted two third-and-10s in the series with completions to Ducksworth (eight yards) and Hamilton (22 yards) before Ducksworth burst for back-to-back 10-yard gainers that pushed Jones into the redzone. Sellers' PAT made it 17-13.
Most of the capacity crowd on hand thought JCJC iced the game when running back Petey Thigpen burst up the middle for a 35-yard score on a third and two with 5:03 left. The Bobcats stayed on the ground seven of the eight plays in the drive that started at their own 33. After Sellers' extra point, Jones led 24-13.
Then Hill went to work. After Bubba Kirksey returned the ensuing kickoff to the Jones 29, Hill hit back-to-back completions to Freeman for eight and 52 yards, respectively, then kept for three to move the Wildcats to the JCJC seven where he ran it in with 3:19 left. Hill zipped a pass to Freeman in the back left corner of the endzone for the two-point conversion to pull PRCC to within three.
Freshman Jamie Hill of Meridian recovered the ensuing on-side kick at his own 46 to set the stage for game-winning drive. Hill hit Ray Chisholm of North Forrest for eight on first down, then back-to-back completions to J.J. Smith of Forrest County AHS for 22 and eight yards, respectively. After Hill's eight-yard keeper was nullified via a facemask penalty, then then hit Freeman with an 18-yarder on a second and 20 for a first down to set up Byrd's game-winning snag.
"We new Demetrius (Byrd) could beat anybody in their secondary with his speed," Hill explained. "We put him on the inside. The tall guy, No. 7 (six-foot-six Eugene Sims) came up in the slot and I took advantage and threw it."
Said Byrd, "I lost it (TD pass) in the sun a little bit, but I recouped and caught it. It was it's like it's time to go home. It's in the bag. I knew I had it."
Pearl River finished the game with 16 first downs to Jones' 19, while generating 398 yards (280 pass, 118 rush) of total offense to the Bobcats' 332 (165 pass, 167 rush).
Both squads had three turnovers each — Jones three fumbles, Pearl River one fumble, two interceptions — while each team drew three flags. PRCC was penalized for 35 yards, while JCJC saw 25 yards in penalty yardage.
Byrd led all receivers with three catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, while Freeman had four snags for 98 and Smith five for 56. Justin Buckhalter paced Jones with four receptions for 58 yards, while Ducksworth rushed for 89 yards on 25 carries.
Else Where Around The League
In other Saturday action around the league, Copiah-Lincoln defeated East Central 23-10 in Wesson, Mississippi Gulf Coast defeated Northwest Mississippi 31-10 in Senatobia, Northeast Mississippi picked up its first win of the year with a 48-25 victory over division foe Mississippi Delta in Moorhead, and East Mississippi defeated winless Coahoma 20-5 in Clarksdale.