Top 10 battle tonight

Published 5:58 pm Thursday, September 25, 2008

By CURTIS ROCKWELL

Item Sports Editor

POPLARVILLE — Pearl River Community College head coach Tim Hatten indicated before the season that he wouldn’t be surprised if arch-rival Gulf Coast was the top ranked team in the nation when his Wildcats faced the Bulldogs in week five of the season.

Now that that contest has arrived, Hatten surely wouldn’t have complained if he’d been told back then that his PRCC squad would actually be ranked higher than Perk even though both are slotted in the National top 10.

Sixth ranked PRCC and 10th ranked Gulf Coast meet at 7 p.m., tonight in Dobie Holden Stadium in what is arguably the biggest juco game in the nation this week.

PRCC is unbeaten at 4-0 and 1-0 in South Division play, while the visiting Bulldogs are 3-1 and 1-0 but were upset by East Mississippi last week and fell from second in the poll to 10th.

Hatten added that Gulf Coast’s loss to East Miss has nothing to do with the state championship race.

“That was a loss against a non-division opponent,” he said. “As far as the South Division and state title chase is concerned, it’s no big deal. Coach (Steve) Campbell (MGCCC head coach) will have them ready to go…it ought to be fun.”

In 2006, a standing-room-only crowd estimated at 8,000-plus packed Holden Stadium in a battle between the rivals ranked first (PRCC) and third (MGCCC) in the NJCAA with the Wildcats taking a convincing 36-22 victory.

PRCC is coming off a big win over Hinds last week to open league play.

“We played mistake-free ball last week up at Hinds and that’s what we’ve got to do against Perk this go around,” Hatten said. “Turnovers killed them (Bulldogs) last week and we can’t afford to fall into the same trap. With the exeption of a few bumps and bruises, we’re going into this week’s game healthy and we’ll be ready to go come Thursday.”

The game tonight marks the beginning of a huge two week swing for PRCC, as one week from today the Wildcats travel to Jones County, which is currently unbeaten and ranked fourth in the nation, in another big South Division battle.

The Bulldogs won a high-scoring 55-47 regular-season thriller in 2005; snapping a record 23-game winning streak by then-defending NJCAA national champion PRCC. But the Wildcats avenged the setback a month later with a hard-fought 25-19 victory in the MACJC title bout for the state championship.

Last season, Gulf Coast took a hard-fought 24-17 win over The River amidst the muck and mud of A.L. May Stadium in Perkinston.

PRCC leads the series with an impressive 53-27-1 mark.