The Wildcats, 7-1 overall and 5-1 in league play, can clinch the division crown this Thursday with a win over Hinds in Raymond. The Bears, on the other hand, evened their records to 4-4 and 2-2 with the shutout.
"You can't play much better defense than that," said fifth-year PRCC head coach Tim Hatten. "They (SMCC) got their passing game got a few yards for them, but when you have six turnovers (three lost fumbles, three interceptions) it nullifies all of your offensive success."
Freshman defensive back Justin Brandon of Pearl River Central intercepted two Bear passes, returning his final pick 77 yards for the game's final score; while preseason All-American Gene Anderson of East Marion grabbed his league-high fifth of the season late in the first half.
Quarterback Carlton Hill, a sophomore transfer from South Florida, connected on 13 of 25 passes for 208 yards in his first start of the year. The Monticello, Fla., native relieved Larry Freeman in the second half of last week's come-from-behind victory over Jones County and guided the Wildcats to a 28-24 victory after trailing the then-fourth-ranked Bobcats by 11 points with less than five minutes left in the game.
"Southwest put some pressure on Carlton, but when you send everybody like that you're taking a huge chance of giving up big plays," Hatten explained.
And that's what happened on PRCC's first possession of the game.
After Southwest was held on downs at the Wildcat 40, Hill zipped a 52-yard completion to J.J. Smith of Forrest County AHS on third down to the to set up a two-yard touchdown run by Seth Hayden of Pearl River Central with 10:06 left in the opening period. Brad Bingham of Moss Point missed the extra point.
Brandon got his first pick of the drizzly, overcast afternoon two snaps into the Bears' ensuing possession at midfield and Hill's arm provided completions to Ricky Smith of Oak Grove for 21 yards, Freeman for 26, and Hayden for 11 and the score. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but PRCC led 12-0 with 5:04 left in the period.
Two of Southwest's four possessions in the second period lasted a total of three snaps with both ending via Anderson's interception and a fumble recovery by Brandon Burns of Columbiana, Ala., at the Bear 34 that set up a Wildcat scoring drive.
Hill passed only once in the seven-play drive, handing off to Hayden four times for 19 yards and keeping twice for five including his one-yard score with 1:17 left. Bingham's PAT made it 19-0.
Bingham kicked a 48-yard field goal — the second longest in school history — to make it 22-0 with 6:02 left in the third, then added a 24-yarder early in the fourth.
Southwest drove to the Wildcat 17 late in the final quarter, but reserve quarterback Theodes Wilson was sacked for a minus-11 and Pearl River held on a fourth and 21.
Quarterback Walter Mason entered the game on the Bears' next possession and connected on four of five for 47 yards to the Pearl River 23 where Brandon snatched his TD pick.
PRCC finished the game with 15 first downs to SMCC's 12, while the Wildcats generated 282 yards of total offense (208 pass, 74 rush) to the Bears' 249 (208 pass, 41 rush).
Freeman led all receivers in the game with four catches for 67 yards, while Smith had one for 52, and Demetrius Byrd of Miami, Fla., four for 45. Damien Henderson led Southwest with 59 yards on two receptions, while Jahdsman Parker had three for 48 and Edward Gant four for 47.
Else Where Around The League
In other Saturday action around the league, Northwest Mississippi clinched the North Division crown with a 30-27 victory over Itawamba in Fulton; while Thursday night's games saw Hinds defeat East Central 27-8 in Decatur, Mississippi Gulf Coast blow out Jones 24-3 at Perkinston, Northeast Mississippi pound Coahoma 44-16 in Booneville, and Mississippi Delta trim Holmes 14-6 in Moorhead.