Despite an early 21-point deficit, Poplarville tied the game late in the fourth quarter but it wasn’t enough at the end

Published 11:05 pm Friday, November 24, 2017

POPLARVILLE — Poplarville came up short of a second consecutive appearance in the Class 4A state championship, falling 52-45 to East Central High School Friday.

For the first half of the game East Central carried the lead, but there was a glimmer of hope that the Hornets would make a  comeback in the second half.

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The Hornets trailed by 21 points early in the second half but a score by Austin Bolton with 3:33 left in the game allowed Poplarville to tie the game at 45.

However, Tony Brown scored off a four-yard run to put East Central back on top with 1:53 remaining in the game.

On Poplarville’s (13-1) last possession of the game, the team faced a fourth-down situation where a first down was needed to keep its hope of tying the game alive. Poplarville’s quarterback Antonio Barnes snapped the ball and threw it downfield to an open receiver but the receiver failed to catch the ball.

The defeat handed Poplarville its first loss of the season and also saw its 2017 season come to an end.

“I think I’m more proud of them tonight than in any of our other 24 out of 25 victories,” Poplarville Head Coach Jay Beech said. “East Central is an outstanding football team, they deserved to win tonight. Our kids never got discouraged, they kept fighting.”

East Central jumped to an early lead early in the game. On the third play of the game, Barnes fumbled the ball and East Central’s (13-0) Avery White recovered it before running it to the end zone for the first score of the game.

On Poplarville’s first play of the game, Bolton ran for a 69-yard score but an illegal block eliminated the play and the points. Poplarville ended the drive four plays later on a failed fourth-down conversion.

After the defensive stop by East Central, quarterback Rylee Brown threw a touchdown pass to Brown, who ran it for about 60 yards into the end zone. East Central led 14-0 by the end of the first quarter.

Poplarville reached pay dirt on its next possession but failed to put points on the scoreboard after kicker Ethan Spiers missed a field goal inside the 20.

With just over four minutes left in the first half, Poplarville got back in the game after a seven-yard touchdown reception by Mario Barnes.

Afterwards, Brown ran for a 90 yard touchdown and gave East Central a 21-7 lead.

On the ensuring kickoff, Poplarville’s D.J. Travis fumbled the ball and East Central recovered it inside Poplarville’s 10-yard line. Three plays later, Brown ran for his third score of the night and gave East Central a 28-7 lead with 2:58 remaining in the second quarter.

In a matter of two and half minutes, Bolton scored twice for Poplarville, but so did Brown for East Central.

Going into halftime, East Central led Poplarville 35-21.

East Central received the ball to start the second half and Brown, once again, ran for another touchdown.

This time, an 85-yard touchdown on the kickoff return put East Central up 42-21.

Poplarville’s Peytan Graham and Cory Knight scored back-to-back touchdowns to cut East Central’s lead to seven points, as the team trailed 42-35 with 4:12 left in third quarter.

Davis kicked a 25-yard field goal to give East Central a 10-point lead with 9:23 left in the game.

On the next two Poplarville possessions, Spiers converted a 24-yard field goal and Bolton ran for a 50-yard run to tie the game at 45-a piece with 3:33 left in the game.

“It was an outstanding football game, we fought back from an early deficit, but it just wasn’t enough,” Beech said.