Barnes, Pernell key to Poplarville’s success

Published 7:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2016

Poplarville running back, Jesse Pernell, looks to continue his streak of scoring against Stone County on Friday.

Poplarville running back, Jesse Pernell, looks to continue his streak of scoring against Stone County on Friday.

Starting the season with three consecutive away games is difficult for any team, but Poplarville made it look easy in the last two games and hope to continue their winning streak this Friday against the Stone County High School Tomcats.

Jay Beech, Poplarville’s head football coach, said that with the challenges of multiple away games comes an even greater benefit.

“It’s pretty difficult starting the season the way we have, but if you get through it with more wins than losses, you’re in good shape,” Beech said. “We only have two away games now for the rest of the season, which is exciting for me and the players.”

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The Poplarville Hornets had the difficult task of opening their season against St. Martin High School, a top 10 team in Mississippi, on the Yellow Jackets’ home turf, resulting in a 35-14 loss. However, the team showed resilience in their next game against a familiar opponent they have not beaten since 2009, Pearl River Central’s Blue Devils.

After that emotional victory, the Hornets travelled to Lumberton to take on the Panthers, whom they beat 44-12. This Friday, they play their first home game of the season, but even with home field advantage, Beech is still preparing for a difficult game.

“Stone has a really good offensive system. We need to dominate the line of scrimmage and if we can do that, we will be successful,” Beech said.

Beech has a lot of confidence in his offensive line, which consists of only two seniors, Evan Smith and Austin Arceneaux.

The battle on the line of scrimmage will be the deciding factor in Friday’s game, Beech said.

“Our offensive line really gets after it and takes pride in the fundamentals, which is what it is all about,” Beech said. “It’s going to be a physical game.”

This season, the Tomcats have leaned on their running game, totaling 950 rushing yards in their first three games, versus the 83 passing yards throughout that time.

Tomcats’ star running back, Terrion Avery, averages almost 200 rushing yards per game, mounting a challenging threat to the Poplarville Hornets.

“They are a quick team and can beat you in a couple of ways, with their running. They have also been good on special teams, which is something we have been focusing on this week,” Beech said.

Although they do not pass very often, Beech said Tomcats wide receiver Ashton Hickman is a strong player that could possibly be faster than their running back Avery.

However, Beech is very proud of his quarterback, Antonio Barnes, and how he has developed so far.

“It’s hard to realize he is just a sophomore. He has gotten a lot better and calmed down in the pocket,” Beech said. “He knows where his receivers are going to be at all times. He’s been working really hard on everything in the offseason and it is showing.”

Also, Beech recognized his senior running back Jesse Pernell, who he said “has been our workhouse for the past three years.” With Pernell’s season ending three games early last season, due to an ankle injury, he plans to treat each game like it’s his last, Pernell said.

“He is a load to bring down and has improved greatly throughout his years here. He is faster than last year and we are excited to have him healthy,” Beech said.

Another Hornets running back, Austin Bolton, was taken out of last Friday’s game against Lumberton when a Panthers defender stomped on his ankle. However, Beech said he will be ready to go against Stone by Friday.

The 2-1 Poplarville Hornets hope to give the Stone Tomcats their first loss of the season at 7 p.m. on Friday at home.

Austin Bolton catches a touchdown during last Friday's game against Lumberton.

Austin Bolton catches a touchdown during last Friday’s game against Lumberton.