Smothering defense powers Pearl River to thrilling Homecoming win
Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — A stifling defense that forced five turnovers and five sacks combined with an offense that rumbled for 271 yards on the ground was the recipe for an exciting Homecoming as the Pearl River football team pulled out a thrilling 35-14 victory over Southwest inside Dobie Holden Stadium.
"I've been very blessed throughout my career to be part of some really good teams, but this is one of the most gratifying wins of my life," head coach Seth Smith said. "Tonight, we're 1-0 and I am grateful.
"I thank God for the adversity. It's easy to hang in there with a smile when it's going well, but this year has been a challenge. These kids have fought and fought. I'm happy for them more than anything."
The victory over the Bears extends the all-time series to 64-16-3 in favor of the Wildcats.
Pearl River (1-7 overall; 1-4 MACCC South) picked up its first touchdown of the day in unique fashion. Southwest (1-6; 0-5) had possession of the football and was back in shotgun formation. The center's snap went wide and to the right and bounced to the 10-yard line. Local product Ahmad Harmon (Poplarville) scooped up the loose ball and carried it into the end zone for the score, 7-0.
PRCC's defense was stout over the next two SMCC drives and got the ball back with 2:51 remaining in the first quarter. Ty Hullete (Senatobia) began the drive by rushing for eight and seven years on back-to-back plays. One rush later, Hullette connected with Paul James (Beaumont; Perry Central) on a slant route across the middle for an 11-yard gain. Two more short rushes occurred before Keyshawn Graham (Tuscaloosa, Ala; American Christian Academy) punched the ball in from two yards out. The subsequent Corblin McGinn (D'Iberville) point after attempt was good, 14-0.
Pearl River struck for six again on its fifth drive of the contest. PRCC rattled off six consecutive rushes to start things and gained 30 yards doing so. PRCC broke out what proved to be its final pass of the night on the following play. Christian Turner (Orange Grove; Harrison Central) faked a handoff and rolled to his right. Meanwhile, Y'Quann Townsend(Marrero, La.; John Ehret) used a quick stutter step to lose his defender completely. Turner saw him break open on the route and heaved a pass down the field to the 6-foot-4 Southern University transfer for a 33-yard touchdown, 21-0.
Southwest needed only one play to match the touchdown as the SMCC quarterback found his receiver wide-open between the hashes for a 55-yard score, 21-7.
Quandarius Keyes (10) celebrates his pick six.
Defensive back Quandarius Keyes (Laurel) made it two straight home games with a stellar defensive play at the 7:06 mark in the third quarter. Southwest had a one-on-one opportunity down the left side of the field and attempted to throw the ball to the receiver's back shoulder. Luckily for the Wildcats, Keyes was ready for the play the entire time as he turned around and plucked the ball out of the air before it made it to its destination. The freshman jetted down the sideline, broke a tackle near midfield and went the rest of the way untouched for a 97-yard interception return, 28-7.
Pearl River forced another turnover by the Bears with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter. SMCC completed a pass for eight yards, but Amari Butler (Petal) ripped the ball away and Kam Norwood (Hattiesburg) jumped on the loose ball.
PRCC's offensive drive stalled out, but luckily, the defense stood tall once again. A pass intended for a receiver in the middle of the field hit off his hands and shot into the air. Caleb Williams (Biloxi: D'Iberville) was quick to react, snatching the ball in the tip drill. This time, the Wildcats made the Bears pay for the turnover. Kayvon Barnes (Pascagoula) rattled off a 19-yard gain and then went right up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown on the following attempt, 35-7.
Pearl River forced its fifth and final turnover of the game just before the third quarter ended. A pass completion across the middle looked to be a good gain for the Bears, but Norwood never gave up on the play. The captain of the defense caught up to the running receiver and punched the ball out of his grasp. Zavier Fairley (Wiggins; Stone County) jumped on the loose ball to hand possession back to the Wildcats.
SMCC scored one last time with 2:20 remaining in the contest, doing so on a 12-yard scramble by the quarterback. On the following drive, Pearl River ran out the clock and ended the game in victory formation, 35-14.
Pearl River needed to throw only two passes on the night, going 2-for-2 for 33 yards and a touchdown.
The Wildcats did their damage through an incredible 271 yards on the ground, led by Barnes, who carried the ball 22 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. Graham was second on the team with 56 yards and a score on 13 carries. Hullette finished with 46 yards on 14 attempts. Turner picked up 18 yards on a pair of carries, and Darnell Smith Jr. (Picayune) earned six touches for 17 yards. Javonta Caldwell (Laurel) and Jessiah Contee (Picayune) rounded out the PRCC rushers with five yards and one yard, respectively.
Norwood led the way defensively, finishing with six tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Dalton Lee(Carriere; Pearl River Central) and Eli Hackbarth (Birmingham, Ala.; Oak Mountain finished with five tackles apiece.
Pearl River wraps up its season Thursday at East Central. Kickoff in Decatur is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
All Pearl River football games are livestreamed 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.