By Stan Caldwell, PRCC Sports Information
POPLARVILLE – The celebration was loud and boisterous in the home locker room at Pearl River Community College.
As well it should have. The Wildcats pulled off one of their most satisfying victories in years Saturday afternoon, a 31-27 upset of 15th-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast in front of a large Homecoming crowd at Dobie Holden Stadium.
The victory evened PRCC’s record at 4-4 overall (3-2 in the South Division), and coupled with Jones County’s 41-36 victory over Hinds, it knocked the Bulldogs (5-3, 3-2) out of playoff contention.
“This is real sweet,” said Wildcat sophomore defensive back Zhaunte McElroy (Hattiesburg). “The alumni were here, they wanted to beat them, we wanted to beat them, and we finished, especially in the fourth quarter.”
It was Pearl River’s first win in the series since a 30-27 Wildcat win in 2010, and it was no fluke. The Wildcats got enough offense, led by a big day rushing from redshirt freshman Caleb Batie (Foxworth), and the defense played by far its best game of the season.
“They did what they were supposed to do,” said PRCC coach Ted Egger. “We kept it real simple in practice this week. We stressed running to the football, tackling and being gap-sound.
“We knew they didn’t throw much, so we stacked the box, and tried to get pressure with our blitzing linebackers.”
The game started disastrously for Pearl River, when Derrick Beckom broke through to block a punt that he recovered in the end zone for a touchdown after the Wildcats’ first possession.
But the Wildcats showed their mettle by taking the ensuing possession 76 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 26-yard touchdown pass from freshman Markevion Quinn (Ruleville) to freshman K.J Breland (Hattiesburg).
The Wildcat special teams then atoned for their early mistake when sophomore Heath Greenlee (Columbia) recovered a muffed punt, setting up Quinn’s 8-yard scoring run.
“We just learned how to finish tonight,” said Quinn, who ran for three touchdowns on 49 yards rushing. He also completed 17 of 30 passes for 152 yards. “I like to run the ball, but the game plan today was to focus on the passing game, and I thought we did a good job.”
Gulf Coast tied the game late in the first quarter on a 6-yard run by Terrion Avery, and took a 21-14 lead after intercepting a pass near midfield, scoring on a 1-yard run by Deandre Torrey.
The two teams traded field goals, a 21-yarder for PRCC by sophomore Mark Johnson (Bay St. Louis) followed by a 27-yard kick by Mason Hunt for Gulf Coast.
The Wildcats averted disaster near the end of the first half, when Quinn fumbled at the goal line attempting to score, and the ball was returned 109 yards for what appeared to be a Bulldog touchdown.
But a block in the back call against Gulf Coast brought the ball back and the teams went into halftime with Gulf Coast leading 24-17.
The Bulldogs extended their lead on their first possession of the second half on a 37-yard field goal by Hunt, but that was the last time Gulf Coast would dent the scoreboard.
Torrey, the nation’s leading rusher with 1,015 yards coming into the game, managed 115 yards on 19 carries, and Avery added 87 yards on 16 runs. But the Bulldogs were just 6 of 17 passing for 81 yards.
And they were more than matched by Batie, who ran 27 times for 125 yards.
“That’s my job, to run up the middle and bang people up,” said Batie. “I like the confidence the coached have in me, to give me the ball in tough situations.”
The Wildcats won the battle of field position in the second half, as Johnson twice pinned the Bulldogs inside their own 10-yard-line with punts of 49 and 44 yards, and that set the tone for a Pearl River’s fourth-quarter rally.
An 18-yard return by freshman Janiero Crankfield (Clearwater, Fla.) set the Wildcats up at the Bulldog 45, and PRCC got the score after an eight-play drive on Quinn’s 7-yard scramble.
On Gulf Coast’s next possession, McElroy intercepted a tipped pass to give the Wildcats the ball at the Gulf Coast 32. Seven plays later, Quinn barreled over from 4 yards out for the go-ahead score.
After that, it was the Wildcat defense that stood tall. Twice the Bulldogs drove inside the Wildcat 30, and both times Pearl River stopped them on downs.
The first was sophomore linebacker Chase Crosby (Gulfport) stopping Torrey for no gain on a fourth-and-2 at the Wildcat 27. The second, game-clinching, stop was a pass-breakup by sophomore Daylon Burks (Lumberton) in the end zone.
“This was a true team win,” said Egger. “We got contributions from every phase of the game. When we play Wildcat football, we can play with anybody. Now we have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done here in a while, and that’s have a winning season.”
The Wildcats will complete their season next Saturday against Copiah-Lincoln. Kickoff at Wesson is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Juco Weekly