WESSON, Miss. — Carlton Hill hit Demetrius Byrd with a 36-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left here Saturday to propel the second-ranked Pearl River Wildcats to a 21-20 come-from behind victory over Copiah-Lincoln and claim a fourth-straight MACJC state football championship.
Brad Bingham's ensuing extra point kick proved to be the game-winning point that puts Wildcats, 10-1 overall, squarely in line for a possible national championship bowl berth.
Eighth-ranked Co-Lin, 8-3 overall, stung Pearl River 31-21 on the same field Sept. 21 to hand the then-first-ranked Wildcats their only loss of the year.
The Wolves appeared to be headed for their first state title since 1985 until PRCC's game-winning drive started at its 30 with 2:22 left and hosts holding on to a 20-14 lead in the scoreless secondhalf.
Hill opened the series with completions to J.J. Smith and Larry Freeman for 15 and nine yards, respectively, then kept twice for 10 yards to the 36. On third and two, Byrd hauled in his leaping grab at the goal line for the game-tying TD.
"It's a great feeling to get another one (state championship)," said fifth-year Wildcat head coach Tim Hatten. "We'll very likely have the opportunity to play for the national title in the coming weeks. We've already won one (national title in 2004) and there's not many teams out there that ever get a chance at achieving the ultimate goal."
Even after Byrd's touchdown, the Wolves threatened with a 39-yard drive to the Wildcat 26 where Nic Gunter missed on a 43-yard field goal attempt to win the game with two seconds left.
The Wolves cashed in on the first possession of the game when Cedric Johnson it Damaoyn Carroll with a 57-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-12 from the Wolves 43. Gunter's PAT made it 7-0 with 11:51 left in the first period.
Less than two minutes later, Aaron Johns burst around left end for a spectacular 75-yard scoring run on the first snap of Co-Lin's next possession. Gunter's extra point made it 14-0 with 9:53 left.
But the Wildcats settled down and answered with their first points of the night when Hill engineered a seven-play, 69-yard drive, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass to running back Seth Hayden at the 5:11 mark. Hill opened the drive with a 24-yard completion to Larry Freeman, then kept for 26 on a third and 13 at the Co-Lin 40 to push things into the red zone. Bingham's PAT made it 14-7.
Co-Lin last possession of the first period ended with a Gunter 33-yard punt six snaps into the second that pinned Pearl River at its own four. Hill kept twice for 15 yards to give the Wildcats some breathing room, then hurled an 81-yard scoring pass to J.J. Smith with 10:23 left in the half. Bingham's extra point tied it up at 14-14.
The Wildcats' next possession bogged down at their own 30 and former Meridian standout punter Phillip Sullivan boomed a 68-yarder that died at the Wolves two. Johns' first down 18-yard run got Co-Lin out of the hole, then Kentrelle Cleveland followed with three carries for 36 yard to push the Wolves to the Wildcat 44.
Johnson hit Thomas Hinton Jr. with a nine-yard completion, then kept for seven and Johns ran for eight to the 28 where Johnson sped right and leaped for the TD at the pylon to regain the lead for the Wolves. Gunter missed the PAT, but Co-Lin led 20-14 with 1:10 left.
Pearl River drove to the Wolves' seven on its second possession of the second half where Hill was intercepted on a first and goal in the end zone by Jasper O'Quinn. The seven-play drive started at the PRCC 17 with the key play coming off a 47-yard completion to Byrd to the Co-Lin 23.
At the 7:26 mark of the fourth, the Wolves drove 53-yards in seven plays to the Wildcat 30 where Gunter's a 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide, setting up the Wildcats' game-winning drive.
Pearl River finished the night with 15 first downs to Co-Lin's 19, while the Wildcats' generated 377 yards total yards (108 rush, 275 pass) to the Wolves'394 (233 rush, 161 pass).
Hill was 12 of 26 (two interceptions) through the air, while Johnson was eight of 18 (one interception) and Johns, who finished with 176 rushing yards on 26 carries, was one for one.
Cleveland ran for 56 yards on six carries, while Hill led Pearl River with 69 on 15. Hayden had 39 yards on nine carries and snagged two passes for 43 yards. Smith led Wildcat receivers with four catches for 105 yards, while Byrd had three for 81 and Freemand three for 46. Carroll paced Co-Lin's receiving corps his 57-yard TD catch, while Johns had 55 yards on two catches, Hinton 40 on four, and Anthony Chambliss nine on one.
Pearl River was penalized six times for 45 yards, while Co-Lin drew eight flags for 60.
Sullivan averaged 46.5 yards on five punts, while Gunter averaged 33.5 on five.