Will the Hornets continue their win streak through Friday night?
Poplarville Head Coach Jay Beech
The Poplarville Hornets have been owning the field so far this season, but holding on to their 3-0 win streak may be more of a challenge as they travel to Wiggins to face the Stone County Tomcats this Friday.
Few people realize the rivalry between these two schools only 25 miles apart. It has always been a big game for fans when the two schools come together, however it’s been over five years since the Tomcats have pulled out a win against the Hornets.
Last year’s game was a tough one for Stone when Poplarville won in the final moments after gaining the lead in the second half for the first time. Predictions from the Associated Press and the Sun Herald all name PHS as the victor in Friday’s match but only by 3 to 6 points. Needless to say Friday’s game at A.L. May Memorial Stadium in Perkinston will be quite the showdown.
“The guys really want to end their streak, but I keep telling them they aren’t just going to hand it to us. We have to take it.” Stone’s Coach John Feaster said. “I honestly think it’s a big rivalry. That’s all people talk about between here and Poplarville.”
Besides the history between the two schools, there is a bit of history between the coaches as well. Feaster being a former Maroon Tide football player faced Poplarville’s Coach Jay Beech on the field when he played for the Blue Devils in high school, and later faced each other as coaches when Beech coached for Pearl River Central under Eric Collins and Feaster coached at Picayune under Dodd Lee. Now the two are facing each other again as leaders of their own programs for the second time.
"I’m no stranger to rivalry though, working in Picayune and growing up in Picayune with Pearl River Central being our rivals and then being on the other side of that when I was a coach over at PRC, ” Feaster said. “Pearl River County is just where good football is played and it’s turning out where a lot of us guys from that area are having success right now and standing across from each other on the sideline now.”
In recent years Stone has been unsuccessful against Poplarville and has won only once since 2005. Last year’s game, Coach Feaster’s first with the Tomcats, was decided in the final minutes, when the Hornets scored the last 10 points of the game securing a win of 38-35.
This year the Hornets will be traveling to Stone County and it will be their first away game so far this season, which might give the Tomcats the edge. However Beech says his players perform better on the road.
“I think we play well away. We have a great home crowd and playing at home is fun, but there are a lot of distractions when you play at home like pregame meal, pep rally, and waiting around in the field house for a game,” Beech explained. “When you go on the road, your kind of busy all day , you pack your stuff, you get on the bus to travel and there’s not a lot of down time to be distracted. So yeah, it’s a little different, but I think we handle away games very well.“
Another change since last year of course are the players. Poplarville’s Jesse Pernell played a major role in securing that win for the Hornets with 158 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Stone’s Terrion Avery gave them the lead in the first half, rushing for 135 years and also scoring two touchdowns. Both, Pernell and Avery of have gone on to play in college at PRCC and MGCCC.
However, another powerful component in Poplarville’s win a year ago was returning running back Austin Bolton who had 170 rushing yards and three scores. Bolton will be taking the field again Friday night. Along with Bolton, the Hornets also have junior Tyson Holston with scores in each game and 217 yards rusing this season, as well as senior Rosevelt Raine who has 329 yards rushing so far this year.
“Bolton is our home run hitter you could say. He can score any time and he has a lot of speed,” Beech said. “Rosevelt is the guy who kinda plugs up the middle. He can break long ones too, but he’s more the one to get two or three yards when you need it. Then we have Tyson Holston, he’s another guy who runs on the edges. Tyler is a good receiver and he also runs our sweeps and plays on the edge. We run edge, edge, middle, and he’s one of those guys that hits the edge for us.”
Feaster calls his Tomcats an “old, but young team", explaining that many of his starting seniors didn’t see a lot of field time last year, possibly putting them at a disadvantage.
Feaster shared, “We have a lot of older players that just didn’t play a lot last year, so I consider us pretty young. We are very, very young on offense, where they (Poplarviell) have players like Bolton who is a very good football player, and most importantly a good kid, have played a lot more games. What’s more impressive to me is that not only is he their best runner, he’s also their best blocker which shows a lot of humility and maturity and it shows where their program is and that they have guys that are being trained to be very selfless. We’re not there yet.”
To prepare for Friday’s game the Tomcats have been strategizing with their defense against Bolton and Raine, but Feaster explained that’s been a hard task.
“You just can’t duplicate what they do on offense,” he said. “Our kids have done the best they can to give us a look from a defensive stand point, but it’s gonna be one of those deals where it may take a play or two to kind of get a feel for things because it’s hard to duplicate their speed and the way they do things.”
Defense isn’t a problem for Poplarville though, in fact they played a near perfect game last week and secured their first shutout since 2011 against Seminary. The 3-0 start has resulted in Poplarville now being ranked the lone South Mississippi school in the AP’s top 10 and number 1 in Class 4A, a new level for the Hornets. Now the pressure is on for PHS to not only triumph over their rivals in Stone County, but to continue their winning streak.
“There were high expectations going into the season and now our players just want to keep meeting those expectations and reaching their potential,” Beech said. “Every single game we want to win really really bad no matter what, but if we ever do lose, its gonna be painful so we don’t want to feel that pain any time soon. It’d be nice to have another shutout like last week but I anticipate this being a pretty close game.”
The call of the game can be heard on wrjwradio.com and the WRJW smart phone app with the Hornets broadcast team of Clay Sweet (play-by-play), Jeff Lossett (color commentator), and Jason Baker (sideline reporter). The broadcast starts at 6:30pm with kickoff set for 7:00pm.