By Shawn Wansley
JCJC Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – It’s always a big deal when Jones County meets Pearl River in any event.
But this year’s game takes on even more importance because both teams are trying to make the playoffs and only three games are left in the regular season.
No. 6 Hinds leads the MACJC South Division at 4-0, while No. 14 JCJC is 3-0 (5-1 overall). Pearl River and Mississippi Gulf Coast are both 2-1 and the top two teams qualify for the playoffs.
JCJC head coach Steve Buckley said his team respects the Wildcats.
“They are still in the hunt,” he said. “They are 3-3, but they are a better team than a 3-3 team. Last year, they came in here and beat our eyes out on our Homecoming game (30-23). We have got to be ready to play.”
Saturday’s game kicks off at 1 p.m. at Dobie Holden Stadium in Poplarville. The game will air on www.jcjc.tv and the Jones County Junior College official Facebook page on Facebook Live with Mark Easley and Chris Robinson on the call.
After a season-opening 47-34 loss to No.1 East Mississippi, the Bobcats have won five straight games, including last week’s 49-7 decision over East Central.
Buckley was pleased with the win, but knows the Bobcats must continue to improve.
“Defensively, we dominated early,” he said. “We controlled the line of scrimmage, which was our goal going into the game. I thought it was our best performance by our inside guys on defense. Offensively, our numbers were good, but I don’t think we were as clean as we could have been. I think a lot of that had to do with East Central. I think they are a well-coached football team.
“In the kicking game, I thought we were average. I thought we settled down and did a better job covering as the game went on. But we have to be better from a kickoff and coverage standpoint. Overall, the performance was a solid one for us.”
Running back DeShawn Smith (Brooksville, Florida) scored four touchdowns, running back Scott Phillips (South Jones) had 103 yards rushing and a touchdown and quarterback Detric Hawthorn was 10-of-15 through the air 182 yards and one touchdown.
On defense, linebacker Brad Zaffram (Buffalo, New York) had 8 tackles and linebacker Jordyn Bowlin (Starkville) had 7 stops. Linebacker Rayshon Marcell (Moss Point) had 3 tackles for loss and tackles Jordan Beaton (Harrison Central) and Dashawn Crawford (Bay Springs) had 2 each. The Bobcats had 13 tackles for loss in the game.
End Brandon Young (West Jones) had 2 sacks with Larry Keys (West Jones) and Lamarcus Keyes (West Jones) getting 1 each.
Crawford also had a blocked field goal early in the game. Defensive back Fred Peters (Columbia) returned it 75 yards to set up JCJC’s first touchdown.
“That was crucial,” Buckley said. “Dashawn did a good job of penetrating and getting his hand up and Fred scooped it up. He just ran out of gas before he could get to where he wanted to get. He is always in the right place at the right time.’”
Buckley said the Bobcats have done well this season in regards to being on the positive side on turnovers. JCJC has forced 18 turnovers and committed only 12, giving them a plus 6. The Bobcats also five defensive touchdowns, which is third in the nation. That includes a 45-yard fumble recovery return for a score by linebacker Derric Hawthorn (Collins) last week.
“I think it goes back to the fact that our kids are starting to understand how offense complements defense, how defense complements offense and how the kicking game complements both of those phases,” Buckley said. “This year, we have forced 18 turnovers and we are well under that (12). Our attacking style of defense forces a lot of turnovers. We have done a good job of stripping balls and I know our defensive staff works on that and we have been in the right place at the right time.
“We have had two big turnovers in the kicking game this year where we have knocked balls loose on kickoff coverage.”
Pearl River owns win over Northeast Mississippi (27-21), East Central (59-40) and Southwest (30-17). They have losses to Northwest (34-21), Hinds (42-10) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (28-21).
The Wildcats are led by a pair of quarterbacks in freshman Markevion Quinn (6-3, 192) of Ruleville and sophomore Justin Agner (5-11, 205), a transfer from Kent State.
“They play two quarterbacks, a freshman and a Division I transfer,” Buckley said. “They can score and they are very solid on defense.”
Buckley also points out the Bobcat will have to adjust to playing on Saturday for the first time this season.
“It’s a totally different change for us going from Thursday night games to Saturday day games,” he said. “We have spent a lot of time as a coaching staff talking about what things we can do to make sure we are prepared mentally to play a day game. We try to keep our schedule the same. We have two hard days of practice with a good ‘run-through’ day and a good film day.
“We kept our schedule the same – we just bumped it back two days because of playing on Saturday. I think our kids will handle it well and it may be a good break because we have a bunch of bumps and bruises we have to heal up. So, those extra two days will allow that to happen.”
Buckley said the Bobcats must continue to do the basics and keep improving if they want to be successful this weekend.
“Defensively, if there is one thing we can improve on that would be tackling. And we need to get aligned correctly. We do a lot of things on defense, so we have to aligned properly and execute our assignment from there.
“Offensively, we have to continue to take care of the football and stay in front of the chains. On special teams, we just need to continue to make plays.”
The Bobcats will host No. 7 Hinds for Homecoming at 2 p.m. on Oct. 21.
Pearl River will entertain No. 17 Mississippi Gulf Coast on Oct. 21.