Defense leads the way in Wildcat Homecoming win
Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — It took a complete team effort to get it done but the Pearl River football team accomplished something it hadn't done since 2017. In front of a raucous Homecoming crowd, Pearl River knocked off Copiah-Lincoln 24-14.
"That was a huge win to get us to 4-3 on the year," Pearl River coach Seth Smith said. "That was an ugly win, but a win is a win. We were trying to manage the game and get out with the win. The defense played exactly how they have all year. When you have a defense like that, it's a no-brainer to just run the ball to run out the clock."
Smith talked about the Wolves fighting their way back into the contest.
"You'd think when you get up 24-0, you'd be able to take a breath, but I've been here two and a half years and you can't do that," he said. "It's unbelievable how good everyone is and how well-coached they are."
HOW IT HAPPENED
Pearl River (4-3 overall; 2-1 MACCC South) got the night started with a bit of trickery as Christopher Holifield Jr.(Mobile, Ala.; LeFlore) lined up as the Wildcat formation quarterback. The wide receiver took the snap and carried the ball up the field for a 15-yard gain. After an incomplete pass and a short run play, Lawson Pratt (Tuscaloosa, Ala.; American Christian Academy) lofted a pass deep down the right side of the field. Marquis McCoy (Crestview, Fla.) was able to run underneath the pass and make the catch for a big 38-yard gain, placing PRCC at the Copiah-Lincoln (3-4; 1-2) 25-yard line. A couple of PRCC plays went by and the drive stalled out, but Michael Owens (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) marched and drained a 40-yard field goal.
On the Wolves' first drive of the night, they drove deep into Wildcat territory, but the Pearl River defense forced them to a fourth down. CLCC opted to go for it but pressure from Justin Jefferson (Memphis, Tenn.; Bartlett) and Bryan Whitehead II (Bartlett, Tenn.) forced an incomplete pass to turnover possession.
Kam Norwood (Hattiesburg) came up big on defense for the second week in a row a few drives later. Copiah-Lincoln drove deep into Wildcat territory and settled the ball inside the PRCC 5-yard line. The Wolves quarterback pitched off to his running back who ran to the left, looking to make a pass. He tossed the ball into the end zone, and Norwood reacted quickly to intercept the pass. The interception was the freshman's third in two games.
With 5:51 remaining in the first half, Whitehead II had yet another stellar defensive play. The defensive end provided some pressure around the right side and as the quarterback pump-faked, the ball slipped out of his hands for a fumble. Whitehead II scooped it up and carried it 47 yards for the score, extending the PRCC lead to 10-0.
The PRCC offense was able to add to its lead on the back of an incredible offensive drive from Nick Milsap (Raleigh; Oak Grove). The sophomore broke off runs of three, 10 and 23 yards to help the Wildcats move down to the Wolves' 9-yard line. Milsap received the carry once again and walked in for an easy touchdown. The extra point from Owens made the score 17-0.
CLCC had an opportunity to get on the scoreboard before the first half of play ended as they completed a pass across the middle for what looked to be big yardage. Kaleb Patterson (Byram; Terry) caught up to the receiver, punched the ball out of his hands and Eli Hackbarth (Birmingham, Ala.; Oak Mountain) promptly jumped on the ball.
The teams traded punts for much of the third quarter before the Wildcats turned in an incredible 13-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to extend the lead to 24-0. The drive, which was capped off by a 5-yard Holifield touchdown run, took 6:38 off the clock.
CLCC scored its first touchdown of the night on the ensuing drive, but the Wildcat defense forced an incompletion on the two-point try to set the score at 24-6.
The Wolves got on the board once again with 8.4 seconds remaining in the third quarter, this time on a long touchdown pass. The two-point conversion was good and made the score 24-14.
CLCC had driven deep into Wildcat territory once again not long into the fourth quarter of the night, but the PRCC defense stepped up. Whitehead II flew off the line of scrimmage to beat his offensive lineman and sacked the quarterback. The defensive play forced a 52-yard field goal attempt for CLCC. Right after the ball left the kicker's foot, Hackbarth jumped high and swatted the ball out of the air.
The Wildcats were able to run out over four minutes on their drive before sealing the game 24-14.
Pratt was 10-for-14 for 77 yards through the air.
Milsap had an incredible game for the Wildcats running the football, finishing with a season-high 153 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Holifield Jr. ran five times for 37 yards and a score.
McCoy caught two passes for 40 yards. Javonte Walker (Tylertown) caught one pass for 27 yards.
Jefferson led the team in tackles with 10. Hackbarth was second with seven tackles. He also had one tackle-for-loss and one field goal block. Whitehead II had three tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery and one defensive touchdown.
Prior to the contest, Pearl River crowned Kallie Hunt as its Homecoming queen. PRCC Athletics and Alumni foundation Hall of Famer Tony Walker was the honorary captain for the coin toss. The Wildcats capped off the Homecoming festivities with a post-game firework show sponsored by Highland Community Hospital and Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home.
Pearl River goes on the road for the last time next Saturday as it travels to Summit for a matchup against Southwest. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.
Pearl River livestreams all games for free at PRCCMedia.com/gold. Fans who have Roku, Amazon Fire, or Apple TV devices can also watch the Wildcat broadcasts by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from their app stores. Games will also be available over the air in Pearl River County by tuning into 1320 AM and 106.9 FM. The radio broadcast is also available at WRJWRadio.com and by downloading the WRJW app.