The Wildcats' lopsided victory came as no surprise to most, but a pair of other league battles played off Interstate 55 some 50 miles south shocked the Mississippi Juco league and their unexpected results shoved the three-time defending state champ Wildcats into the No. 2 spot in the division.
Copiah-Lincoln, Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Pearl River entered their Thursday night battles with identical 4-1 South Division marks with playoff ramifications running amok on their outcomes.
Co-Lin's 15th-ranked Wolves, who handed the then-No. 1-ranked PRCC its only loss of the season with a 31-21 shocker Sept. 21 in Wesson, upended 12th-ranked Jones 16-3 in Summit to ice the division crown thanks to fourth-ranked Gulf Coast's highly unexpected 14-7 loss to unranked Southwest Mississippi (5-4 overall,3-3 in division play ) in Summit that saw the Bulldogs season abruptly end.
The 15th-ranked Wolves will now host North Division 20th-ranked runner up Itawamba, 29-23 victors over East Mississippi Thursday, Saturday, Nov. 4; while the Wildcats hit the road for Senatobia the same day to take on unranked North champ Northwest Mississippi for the first round of the MACJC playoffs.
Nov. 4's winners will face-off Saturday, Nov. 11, for the state championship at a yet-to-be-decided location.
Pearl River improved to 8-1 and 5-1, while Hinds dropped to 3-6 and 1-5.
Fifth-year PRCC head coach Tim Hatten was surprised as anybody about the sudden turn of events after his Wildcats' dominating win.
"All we had to do was beat Hinds to insure getting in (the playoffs) and if Gulf Coast had beaten Southwest, we would've been the division champs," Hatten said. "I couldn't fathom them (Gulf Coast) losing that one with so much at stake.
"But we're just happy to have the opportunity to win a fourth straight title...that's what counts."
But Pearl River's first-half performance against Hinds was paltry at best, as the two rivals had battled to a 7-7 stalemate at the intermission.
"Offensively, it couldn't have been much worse for us...it was bad," Hatten said. "We generated a few yards (54 rush, 78 pass) in the first half, but we had two interceptions that killed drives in the redzone (at Hinds' 10 and 24) and the last turnover set up the game-tying score."
It was the Eagles' first of two turnovers of the night that set up the Wildcats' go-ahead score late in the first quarter when Kendrick Young of West Jones forced and recovered his first of two fumbles in the game. Young, affectionately tagged "Pitt Bull" by his teammates, recovered at the Hinds' eight and Seth Hayden of Pearl River Central scored three snaps later from the three. Brad Bingham of Moss Point booted the PAT to put PRCC up 7-0 with 2:37 in the period.
Bingham had the opportunity to pad Pearl River's lead on its ensuing possession with a 40-yard field goal but saw his boot blocked. On the Wildcats' next series, quarterback Carlton Hill threw his second interception of the game on a second and 14 deep on Hinds' end and it took the Eagles only two plays to cash in when Michael Mace raced around right end 21 yards for the score. Jess Shelby's PAT tied it up at 7-7 with 6:04 left for the finals points before the intermission.
Pearl River was lethal in the second half, holding its hosts to minus-13 yards of offense while scoring 29 unanswered points starting with a six-play, 70-yard drive on the Wildcats' first possession of the third period.
Hayden, who finished the night with 108 yards on 16 carries, got the call on second down from his own 30 and rambled 47 yards to the Hinds 23, then Hill hit Larry Freeman of Fort Meade, Fla., with a seven-yard completion followed by a three-yard burst by Hayden before zipping a TD pass to J.J. Smith of Forrest County AHS to regain the lead for the Wildcats. Bingham's PAT made it 14-7 with 11:02 left in the period.
Two series later, PRCC cranked things up at the Eagles' 45 after Hinds punter Brent Sutherland booted a 41-yarder out of his own endzone. Hayden ran for 13 on first down but a 15-yard personal foul on the Eagles quickly shoved things to the 16. Three snaps later, Hayden scored from the two. Bingham's extra point made it 21-7 with 2:54 left in the period.
Hinds followed with a three and out at its own 21 heading into the final period and Sutherland's first of two blocked punts in the quarter — both by Bubba Kirksey — saw Marcus Ware of Columbia High recover at the nine. Bingham booted a 28-yard field goal in the first minute of the fourth to make it 24-7.
Two Eagle series later, Sutherland had his second blocked punt by Kirksey and the freshman from Hattiesburg High recovered in the endzone for the score. Bingham's PAT was blocked.
Murphy's Law prevailed for Sutherland as an errant snap saw Pearl River recover at the Hinds' four and freshman nose tackle Aaron "Refrigerator" Williams of Ridgeland High banged his 6-foot, 310-pound torso up the middle for the game's final TD on his first collegiate carry. A bad snap saw Bingham miss the PAT.
Pearl River finished the game with 13 first downs to Hinds' six (two in the second half), while the Wildcats generated 277 yards of total offense (109 pass, 168 rush) to the Eagles' 52 (16 pass, 36 rush).
Besides Hayden, Kirksey got six carries for 41 yards; while Demetrius Byrd of Miami, Fla., led all receivers with four catches for 73 yards. Hill completed nine of 22 passes (two interceptions) for all of the Wildcats' aerial yardage, while Hinds used three quarterbacks in the game and the trio completed only five of 18 attempts (no interceptions).
The penalty differential was as lopsided as the score, as PRCC drew 12 flags for 128 yards and Hinds had four for 40.
Wildcat Phillip Sullivan of Meridian punted four times for a 32.5-yard average, while Sutherland punted seven time for the identical average.
Elsewhere Around The League
In other regular-season-ending action Thursday, Northeast Mississippi (3-6, 3-3) defeated Holmes (1-8, 0-6) 12-2 in Goodman and East Central (2-7, 0-6) defeated Coahoma (1-8, 1-5) 30-13 in Clarksdale.