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Wildcats come up short in 88th Bulldogs meeting

Special to the Item

POPLARVILLE — File the 88th meeting between Pearl River and archrival Mississippi Gulf Coast in the ‘wild one’ folder.
The visiting No. 3 and still-unbeaten Bulldogs spoiled the host Wildcats’ homecoming day here Saturday in Dobie Holden Stadium with a hard-fought 7-0 MACJC South Division shutout victory, despite being out-gained by The River 229-163 in total offense.
But Gulf Coast, affectionately tagged as ‘Perk’ in MACJC athletic circles, topped the one statistical category that wound up counting the most — taking away two critical Wildcat fumbles that proved to be the difference in the outcome.
Pearl River finished the hot, humid afternoon with 235 passing yards from the arm of quarterback Kaylon Cooper, an Independence CC (Kan.) transfer who prepped at North Little Rock High (Ark.), but was zapped on the rushing side with a minus-six yards, thanks, in part, to three Cooper sacks for a combined minus-40 yards.
Perk, on the other hand, rushed for 101 yards, including a game-high 55 by former Picayune High standout Preston Dedeaux (16 carries), and passed for a lack-luster 62.
Second-yard Wildcat head coach William Jones praised his squad despite the loss.
“We felt all year long that we had an outstanding defense and we proved it today,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys. I asked them to play hard and with class and we went out and played the third-ranked team in the nation to the wire.
“We were better tacklers today and showed we were mentally prepared to play this game. I tip my hat to Gulf Coast, though. They made a few plays when they had to and we had our opportunities, but didn’t cash in when we needed to.
“That was the difference in the game.”
Mississippi Gulf Coast improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in South Division play, while Pearl River dropped to 3-4 and 1-4.
The Bulldogs scored the game’s only points on their second possession of the afternoon. After Kevin Phillips ended Gulf Coast’s initial series with a picture-perfect 29-yard pooch punt to pin The River at its own five, Cooper fumbled on the third snap and MGCCC recovered at the Wildcat one. Quarterback Thad Miller plunged into the end zone three snaps later and Tristan Reynolds’ extra point made it 7-zip with 2:14left in the first quarter.
PRCC cranked up at its own 42 on its first possession of the second period and Cooper kicked things off with a first-down, 32-yard pass completion to Austin Watts of Sumrall High to the Bulldog 30. Four plays later, a 37-yard field goal attempt by Cody Mikell of Poplarville High was blocked.
Three punt exchanges later the half ended.
Perk opened the second half with a three and out and Pearl River cranked things up at its own 21 after a 45-yard punt by Phillips. Cooper hit Charles Ducksworth of Mize High with a 41-yard pass on first down to the Bulldog 38, then found Austin Watts with a seven-yarder after a six-yard gain by Darrell Robinson out of Noxubee County High in Macon. But Cooper then fumbled on a third and two at the 30 and Gulf Coast recovered.
Two series later, the Bulldogs drove 47 yards in six plays to the Wildcat 27 — thanks in part to a pair of 15-yard River penalties — but Phillips’ 44-yard field goal attempt sailed wide and the Wildcats took over.
After Robinson was dropped for a minus-five and Cooper was sacked for a minus-11, Cooper redeemed himself with a desperation heave to avoid another sack to wide receiver Bryan Magee of West Marion High good for 58 yards to the Perk 31. The third quarter ended after two Robinson runs for a combined seven yards and the sophomore speedster opened the final period with three straight runs for a combined nine yards to the Gulf Coast 15. Cooper answered with two straight incomplete passes and the Bulldogs took over on downs.
Three series later, Perk drove 51 yards in 10 plays to the Pearl River 11 where the Wildcats plugged running back Chris Robinson for zilch on a fourth and two and The River took over on downs.
Cooper converted a second and 15 with a 37-yard completion to Magee on the Wildcats’ final possession, then connected with Austin Watts for eight to near midfield. After Cooper kept for a minus-two, he hit Ducksworth for three yards before being sacked for a minus-10 on a fourth and one and Gulf Coast took over. A kneel down by Miller ended the game.
MGCCC finished the game with 10 first downs to PRCC’s eight, while Magee led all receivers in the contest with two catches for 95 yards. Austin Watts had five for 78 and Ducksworth three for 56. Besides Dedeaux, Perk’s Tevarus McCormick had 39 yards on eight carries and Robinson 32 on 15.
Cooper, who accounted for a minus-38 yards (16 attempts), completed 13 of 23 passes (no interceptions) for all the Wildcat aerial yardage, while Miller, who had a minus-21 yards on four attempts, completed 10 of 19 (no interceptions). He was sacked twice — by Drew Bailey out of Bannacker High in College Park, Fla., for minus-12 yards and Antron Wats of East Marion High for a minus-nine.
Mikell averaged 37.2 yards on six punts, while Phillips averaged 36.9 on eight.
The River was penalized seven times for 57 yards, while Gulf Coast drew five flags for 50.
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE MACJC
Elsewhere around the South Division, 20th-ranked Jones County was nipped by East Central 14-7 in the Warriors’ homecoming tilt in Decatur, while Copiah-Lincoln celebrated its homecoming in grand style with a 41-21 stomping of Hinds in Wesson. In the North, reigning national and state champion and No. 1-ranked East Mississippi blanked Holmes 49-0 in Scooba, Northwest Mississippi smacked Mississippi Delta 23-14 in Senatobia, and Itawamba pounced Northeast Mississippi 38-19 in Fulton.
In the only intra-divisional match up of the week, Southwest Mississippi bombarded winless Coahoma 52-10 in Clarksdale.
NEXT WEEK IN THE MACJC
Week eight in the MACJC sees only two Thursday games with East Mississippi (7-0, 4-0) traveling to Northwest Mississippi (3-4, 3-1) for a North Division battle in Senatobia and Pearl River (3-4, 1-4) traveling to Northeast Mississippi (2-5, 2-3) in the only intra-divisional match up of the week.
Five homecoming battles are on tap for Saturday. In the South, Mississippi Gulf Coast (7-0, 5-0) hosts Copiah-Lincoln (5-2, 3-1) in Perkinson, Jones County (4-3, 2-2) hosts Hinds (4-3, 2-2) in Ellisville, and Southwest Mississippi (2-4, 1-3) hosts East Central (3-4, 1-3) in Summit, while in the North, Holmes (2-5, 2-3) hosts Coahoma (0-7, 0-5) in Goodman and Mississippi Delta (3-3, 2-2) hosts Itawamba (3-4, 3-2) in Moorhead. Southwest’s and Mississippi Delta’s records reflect only six games thus far as the two squads’ Sept. 4 game in Wesson was called in the third quarter due to the threat of lightning and may or may not be completed at a later date.
MACJC STANDINGS THROUGH WEEK SEVEN
Mississippi Gulf Coast leads the South Division, followed by Copiah-Lincoln, Hinds and Jones County (tied for third), East Central, Pearl River, and Southwest Mississippi. In the North undefeated East Mississippi leads the way, followed by Northwest Mississippi, Itawamba, Mississippi Delta, Northeast Mississippi, Holmes, and Coahoma.