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Picayune played like champions

I was reminded by a close friend earlier this year that the current football season marks my 20th anniversary of covering prep football and prep sports in some form or fashion in South Mississippi.
Of course before getting paid to watch the games and write about them, I also played in and watched many other games for many years in the area.
And, I also remembered recently that in those 20 years of covering prep football, I have been fortunate enough to follow numerous teams on their quest for a state title and actually be present when seven won state titles and hoisted the gold football at the end of the season.
Then, on Friday, it occurred to me that over the past 20 years and of those seven teams that went on to wear state crowns, that two of those came when the years the teams were competing in ended in seven.
And, as you may have guessed by now, what reminded me of that little tidbit was watching Picayune’s second half dis-mantling of a then unbeaten D’Iberville team Friday night that allowed the Maroon Tide to defend their Region 8-4A title and enter the playoffs with much momentum.
Watching Picayune come back from an 11 -point deficit twice and shutdown the explosive Warriors in the second half, a team I picked to win the game if you remember, made me think…my first season of covering football I watched Pascagoula in 1987 as the Panthers paced by Shane Matthews and Terrell Buckley ran roughshod over their opponents on the way to an unbeaten 14-0 record and a state title.
That year I was just a “stringer” or a correspondent if you will, for the paper in Pascagoula as I was finishing my college degree. I got to cover Pascagoula a few times and was able to see the Panthers stop an overmatched Greenwood squad for the title at Robinson-Hale Stadium on the campus of Mississippi College in Clinton on a cool December evening.
Then, 10 years and two more titles later, I had been elevated to the Sports Editor’s chair at that same publication and watched all of Moss Point’s magical run to the 1997 state title that ended with a thrilling overtime win over South Panola at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson as Moss Point completed its quest for back-to-back state titles.
Two different teams and schools, two different years, but both ending in seven.
Could this Maroon Tide team make it three different schools for me in three different seasons that end in that numeral and keep the lucky 7 streak alive? Well, after watching the team on Friday, I’d say it’s possible.
Picayune showed all the traits of a champion, coming back from the deficits and keeping their game plan in tact. Head coach Dodd Lee called an outstanding game on the offensive side of the ball, and defensive coordinator Seth Smith, in his first year in that capacity, got his defenders to answer some key questions the Maroon Tide faced entering the stretch run.
The Tide answered every time it seemed that the Warriors had taken control, and eventually came up with a big play to sway the momentum in their favor.
And that’s what you have to have this time of year.
Now, the Maroon Tide opens the playoffs with, what in my opinion, might not be quite as talented of a team as last season but a team that may be playing better this time of year.
Also, if you look ahead, the Tide won’t have to worry about traveling to Waynesboro this postseason, a place they have never won, and one where their season has ended the last two years.
But if the Maroon Tide can duplicate a pair of home wins to open the playoffs like it did last season they would then find themselves in all likelihood facing Moss Point on the road the day after Thanksgiving in the Class 4A South State semifinals.
And even though the Tigers beat Picayune to open the season, Dantzler Stadium is a place that the Maroon Tide has proven it can win in, unlike Waynesboro.
Is Picayune the most talented of the 32 Class 4A teams left with a chance to win the state? Maybe not.
But I never felt that the Moss Point team a decade ago was more talented than South Panola was, they just played like champions that night.
Much like the Maroon Tide did on Friday.
Curtis Rockwell is the Sports Editor of the Picayune Item and can be reached at crockwell@bellsouth.net