One last look at the state championship

Published 7:00 am Saturday, December 28, 2013

Like many of you might have been, I was in Mississippi Veteran’s Memorial Stadium three weeks ago tonight when Picayune beat Oxford for the Class 5A state football championship.

However, due to so many changes here at the Item over the past few weeks, it was just this week that I was able to actually find time to watch a replay of the game.

So, in order to close out this space for the final time in 2013, I made some notes while I again watched the Maroon Tide win their second state title in three seasons.

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• Picayune’s win was mentioned on national television. Oxford assistant coach Chris Cutcliffe is the son of David Cutcliffe, the head coach at Duke and former head coach at Ole Miss. Duke was playing Florida State for the Atlantic Coast Conference on ESPN the same night, and Brent Musburger and his broadcast partner Kirk Herbstriet briefly reported that Picayune had just beat Oxford 42-35 for the Mississippi Class 5A state championship. Ironically, Duke lost as well.

• On the game-winning 75-yard scoring run by Kardarius Cross, fullback Xavier Haralson kicked out the Charger linebacker with an almost perfect block. Standout tackle D’Marcus Haralson was lined up at tight end on the play, and sealed a Charger end. Split end Coren Nixon then provided just enough interference in the Oxford secondary to allow Cross to sprint to the house untouched.

• Cross and fellow secondary mate Gerrell Keeton both came up big on a pass play by Oxford with 2:44 to play and the game tied, that set up Cross’ big scoring run.

• Only 49 seconds elapsed on the game clock between Picayune’s tying and game winning scores. Former Mississippi State quarterback Mat Wyatt, the co-host of a daily state-wide radio show called “head-to-head”, said after Picayune scored to tie the game at 35-35 with 2:57 to play “I think that is plenty of time for Oxford to score and pull this game out”. Ummm…welll…OK. He then said, “Picayune takes over with the game tied and three time outs”…the Tide wouldn’t need them.

• Cross has to be Picayune’s second ever Dandy Dozen pick next year. Don’t ya think? The kid showed his resilience when after fumbling the ball away as well as dropping what could have been a touchdown catch, he came back with several big plays on defense and then provided perhaps the most exciting play ever in the history of Picayune football.

• Daveon Greene, Hunter Smith and Cross each had a big part on a key late defensive play for the Maroon Tide in knocking a Charger receiver out of bounds to stop the clock during Picayune’s big rally.

• Deandre Anderson picked up three yards and six inches on a fourth and three play with 7:30 to play in the game at midfield and the Tide trailing 35-21. On the next play, Boderick Scott hit Greene with a 46-yard scoring strike that began one of the wildest comebacks I have ever seen.

• How in the world could the South coaches in the Bernard Blackwell All-Star game not pick Anderson and Greene for that contest. Unbelieveable.

• Picayune went almost 20 minutes without scoring a point…and still won the state crown.

• But as big as that fourth quarter comeback was, and trust me it was huge, the performance in the first half of a second round playoff game on the road against Wayne County may have been the best I have ever seen a Picayune team play. It was 31-zip at the half.

• Senior Russell Whitehead made an outstanding play on a kickoff after Picayune had tied the game that kept Oxford on its side of the field and helped set up the game-winning score.

• Ends Chance Kellar and Ethan Frierson each made huge defensive plays late in the game; Kellar with a fumble recovery and Frierson with a big 11-yard tackle for loss. Chance Frierson helped a little in that final fumble recovery as well.

• Plackekicker Jackson Samples was solid and steady for Picayune all season long, and not just for the fact that he made 90 percent of his extra points for a team that averaged 45 points a game. But the sky kick that he mastered on kickoffs was a key weapon for the team all season long as well. Oh, and let’s give a bit of credit to snapper Sam Hickman and holder Josiah Hickman as well.

• Preston Dedeaux and former Moss Point offensive lineman Alcender Jackson may be the two most complete prep football players I have seen in the past 30 years.

• The job Brian Edwards did with Picayune’s offensive line after he lost two senior starters mid-way through the season was darn near amazing.

• The job defensive coordinator Walt Esslinger did with his unit after it gave up 61 points in a season opening loss to Petal may have been even more amazing.

• One other thing. To begin the fourth quarter, down by 14 points, Picayune got off just a six yard punt in its own territory and Oxford took over on the Tide 45. But two Charger penalties and two big plays by Picayune’s defense forced Oxford to punt from its own 35 facing a fourth and 36 situation. Cross had a big pass deflection, and Smith, Dedeaux, Frierson, Kellar and Keith Gaston combined on a big sack during that series.

• Most folks that pay attention to this type of stuff will probably pick Oxford and Laurel to meet in next year’s Class 5A state championship game.

But, in a one game scenario, with all the marbles on the line…I’ll take Picayune head coach Dodd Lee and his coaching staff anytime. And I have been doing this for almost 30 years.

• Oxford was allowing just 13 points per game over its 14 wins coming into the title tilt.

• Wyatt’s reaction after the game winning run by Cross was …”Are you kidding me….?” His partner in the booth, Will Kolmeyer, called the finish “Mind-boggling.” Amen. By the way guys…It’s PICK-E-YUNE….not PICK-A-YUNE…I mean Musburger got it right.

• Did anyone ever doubt, despite the fact that it was 25 degrees with a 15 mile per hour wind, that I would show up in shorts and sandals….? See ya next year.