Poplarville seeks back-to-back breakout seasons

Published 7:00 am Thursday, August 17, 2017

The odds of being struck by lightning twice are one in nine million. However, the old saying, “lightning never strikes twice in the same place” could be proven wrong by the 2017 Poplarville Hornets as the swarm looks to make a bolt to the 4A state championship for the second straight year.

Poplarville’s strength comes from their Wing-T offense, which helped the Hornets average over 40 points per game last season. And what makes this offense even more lethal is tailback Austin Bolton, who is debatably one of the most dynamic running backs in 4A and 5A football.

Bolton rushed for 1,746 yards and 21 touchdowns along with eight receptions for 199 yards and three more trips to the end zone last season. Now in his senior year, it’s safe to expect a monumental performance out of the 5’8’’ 170-pound ball carrier.

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Antonio Barnes in his third year as the starting quarterback, had an efficient 2016 campaign in which he completed 44 of his 86 passes for 877 yards and 12 touchdowns while only giving up six interceptions on a run-heavy offense. Also, his favorite target Tyson Holston is also returning.

Statistically speaking, Poplarville has inched its way to becoming one of the most threatening names in 4A Mississippi football.

“Years ago, we were shocked when we began consistently reaching the postseason. Then we started progressing and getting deeper and deeper into the playoffs, but that unfamiliarity was overwhelming,” Poplarville Head Coach Jay Beech said.

Last year Poplarville reached uncharted waters as the first Hornets team to take a swing at a 4A state title.

Still, Beech said the pressure of the big stage got to the Hornets. But now, with that familiarity under the Hornets’ wings, Beech believes they will be the team with the advantage if they get to the state championship again.

“I wouldn’t say we are hungrier than any other team to get wins and make it to the state championship. This team is just glad it’s football season,” Beech said.

Poplarville is coming off of a historic 12-2 season, but now the Hornets must regroup as this season brings new players, strengths and weaknesses. To ease the difficult schedule ahead, Beech broke the season into three separate parts, setting different goals for each. The first is the non-district season, where Beech plans on developing continuity and hit the ground running, literally. Then the district season, where the reigning Region 7-4A champions plan to repeat the success of last year. After that, the most important segment of the three seasons, playoffs.

What got Poplarville to and through the playoffs last year was an energetic and powerful defense, which tallied 38 sacks and 55 tackles for a loss.

The bad news? Nearly 70 percent of those sacks came from seniors in 2016.

“We have depth and have a great group of big guys that will fill those holes on our defensive line,” Beech said.

Those players include Wyatt Duncan, Luke Mitchell, Mario Barnes and Devin Hart, who will look to produce the same numbers as his brother, last year’s captain Chad Hart.

To start the season, the reigning 4A south state champion Hornets host the three-time 5A state champion, Picayune’s Maroon Tide Aug. 18.

Picayune Head Coach Dodd Lee said the last time the Hornets beat the Maroon Tide was in 1976, during Lee’s senior year as a player for Picayune.