Pearl River scares No. 1 Jones College in ‘Cat Fight’ thriller
Published 2:38 pm Sunday, October 17, 2021
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The Pearl River Wildcats played No. 1 Jones College down to the wire inside a lively Dobie Holden Stadium on Thursday before eventually falling 28-22 in the 91st edition of the “Cat Fight.”
The six-point differential was the closest game the top-ranked Bobcats have played all season.
“There’s no way a coach could be prouder,” Pearl River coach Seth Smith said. “You’re talking about the No. 1 team in the country and we had a possession at the end of the game with a chance to beat them. That’s all you need to say.”
FIRST HALF RECAP
Takeaways played a big role through the first 30 minutes. PRCC opened the game with a fumble on its first possession and JC (6-0 overall; 3-0 MACCC South) capitalized, scoring on a long run at the 12:42 mark. The Wildcats (2-5, 0-4) marched down the field on their next possession but threw an interception while being wrapped up.
Jones College looked to build on the momentum, but Luther Woullard II (Petal) and the PRCC defense slammed the door. With JC threatening to double its lead, the sophomore defensive back glided over from his safety position and dove for a wayward pass at the 1-yard line. The interception helped keep JC off the scoreboard for the remainder of the first frame. The Bobcats extended their lead to 14-0 at the 13:42 mark of the second quarter.
Pearl River immediately responded.
Will Young (Hurley; East Central) rolled to his left and lofted a pass toward his sideline. The ball arced over a Bobcat defensive back and into the hands of Latreal Jones (Taylorsville). The Southern Miss commit took off down the sideline and out-ran the JC defense for an 81-yard strike to split the Bobcats’ lead in half, 14-7.
With just over 6 minutes remaining in the half the Wildcat defense went back to work. A swarm of defenders surrounded the Jones College running back and plucked the ball from his grasp. Once the pile was cleared, linebacker Justin Jefferson (Memphis, Tenn.; Bartlett) emerged with the ball.
PRCC made the most of the turnover as kicker Michael Owens (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) nailed a 33-yarder with 2:20 remaining to pull the Wildcats within four, 14-10.
JC scored once more just before the break to extend its lead to 21-10.
DEFENSIVE SECOND HALF
The Bobcats scored on the first play of the second half to extend their lead to 28-10. At that point it looked as if the visitors might runaway. But on the contrary — the Wildcats came up with big play after big play to scratch back into the contest.
“I thought we tackled extremely poorly in the first half. The difference in the second half was just tackling,” Smith said. “Tackling is a mindset.”
The Wildcats were forced to punt on their next possession but JC’s returner bobbled the ball and Kevin Wilcox (Carriere; Pearl River Central) pounced on the ball. The turnover led to a 3-yard touchdown run from Young to pull PRCC within 12 at 28-16.
The Wildcats continued to make plays. During JC’s next possession, the quarterback and running back mishandled the handoff and Jefferson grabbed it for another turnover.
Once again PRCC made the most of the opportunity it created. Using tempo, Tony Brown (Hurley; East Central) found a crease and dashed up the middle of the JC defense for an 11-yard touchdown. Although PRCC missed its second straight PAT, the Wildcats were within striking distance at 28-22 with 11:39 remaining in the third.
The remainder of the game was dominated by the defenses. PRCC’s defense held strong on the next Bobcat possession and forced a missed field goal wide right.
After PRCC forced a punt on JC’s next possession, Jefferson came up with a big tackle in space on fourth down to keep the Wildcats’ hopes alive.
Both teams traded opportunities throughout the fourth quarter until the final minutes.
The Wildcats looked to have life late in the contest. After forcing a punt, PRCC faced a third-and-long in its own territory. Young found Tavion Smith (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) in a pocket on the left side and the 6-foot-4 receiver raced across midfield as the clock clicked past three minutes. PRCC took a shot down the side line once more and a heavily contested pass was picked off, sealing the “Cat Fight.”
LEADING THE WAY
Jefferson was a standout for the Wildcats on defense. The linebacker recorded a game-high 15 total tackles with 3 ½ tackles for loss accounting for 33 yards, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“I did what coach said and played my heart out. I did my best to play for my team,” Jefferson said. “It’s no individual efforts; we play as a team.”
Nijewel Coleman (Sumrall) was second on PRCC with eight tackles. Elijah Jenkins (Picayune) finished with five tackles, 1.5 TFLs and one sack.
Offensively, Young completed 3 of 7 passes for 126 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. Brown led PRCC’s rushers with 83 yards on 27 carries. Young finished with 67 yards on the ground.
The Wildcats have a longer-than-normal week ahead as they will play at Southwest on Saturday. Kickoff in Summit is at 5 p.m.
The Wildcats will conclude the regular season Oct. 28, hosting Hinds for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Tickets are available at PRCCAthletics.com/tickets.