By Curtis Rockwell, Sports Editor
The Picayune Item
For the second consecutive season, Pearl River Central came up one step short of playing for its first ever state football championship.
Visiting Pascagoula stuffed the Blue Devils with a stout defensive effort, limiting the high-powered PRC offense to just 10 points in a 17-10 victory in the Class 5A South State Championship game Friday night at Hendrix Stadium
The Panthers, 11-2, avenged a 26-20 loss to the Blue Devils three weeks ago, and will face Starkville for the Class 5A state championship Saturday night at 7 p.m., in Jackson at Veteran’s memorial Stadium.
The Blue Devils finished perhaps its greatest season on the gridiron in the school’s history at 11-2.
“We just couldn’t get our offense on the field consistently, we never could get into a rhythm,” PRC head coach Eric Collins, whose team lost to arch-rival Picayune 45-10 in the Class 5A South State finals last season, said. “They came in with a great game plan, and I’m sure that’s what they wanted to do was to keep it away from us. We didn’t play our best game, no doubt. But they had something to do with that.”
Kevin Scott rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns for the Panthers and quarterback Stacey Warren added 137 yards rushing as well.
The Panther defense limited PRC to 11 points less than the Blue Devils had scored all season long. “It was an outstanding effort by our guys, on both sides of the ball,” Pascagoula head coach Lewis Sims said. “But our defense was tremendous, to play like that against an offensive as explosive as PRC’s.”
The Blue Devils managed just two first downs in the first 20 minutes of the game, and Pascagoula took advantage that as Scott scored on a 5-yard run and Grant Warren booted a 32-yard field goal as the Panthers took a 10-0 lead.
Scott’s score was set up when Louis Williams picked off a pass by PRC’s Dylan Spiers one play after Warren’s field goal.
But Pascagoula’s Brandon Rich fumbled a punt late in the first half, and PRC’s Brandon Padgett jumped on the loose ball at the Panther 19. Six plays later, Blue Devil fullback Steven Kubicki cracked the goal line from 3-yards out and Javon Detto’s point-after made it 10-7 at halftime. Rich would be heard from again, however.
Pascagoula began the second half by forcing a quick three-and-out by PRC, and the Panthers promptly marched 89 yards in 14 plays taking nine minutes off the clock and Scott scored on a 1-yard plunge to put PHS up 17-7 with 1:58 to play in the third frame.
The Panther defense, which held PRC to right at 200 yards of total offense, once again kept the Blue Devils at bay, and after a 22-yard field goal by Detto made it 17-10 and Pascagoula took over at its own 20 with 7:27 to play.
Warren and Scott guided the Panthers down the field, and Pascagoula had a second and six at the PRC 18 but Warren fumbled the ball away. PRC’s Ryan Polizzi recovered the fumble at his own 20, and the Blue Devils took over with 3:32 left.
The Blue Devils, with no time outs, managed to move the ball inside the Pascagoula 20 but a holding call moved the ball back to the 29. Then, as PRC quarterback Dylan Spiers scrambled trying to make a play, his throw into the end zone was picked of by Rich with just :13 seconds to play.
Warren took one knee, and sent the Panthers to their first state championship game since 1987.
Kubicki paced PRC with 101 yards rushing.
“Our kids fought until the end, and that’s all I can ask for,” Collins concluded. “We didn’t play our best and still had a chance just seven points down in the final minute.”
Starkville beat West Point 29-28 in overtime in the North State finals. Picayune beat Starkville 38-21 in last year’s 5-A state finals.