Photo/Kevin Williamson

For three and a half quarters Friday night in Ellisville, things unfolded nicely for the home-standing Braves of South Jones. With less than four minutes left to play, the hosts had the ball and a 24-12 lead. Win number five for the 2018 season seemed nearly guaranteed for South Jones. Almost incredibly, it didn’t happen.

The Braves took over at their own 10-yard-line with 6:23 left to play, having just stopped Natchez on downs after the Bulldogs drove from their own 45 to as deep as the Braves’ seven-yard line. When the visitors reached the South Jones seven-yard line, the Braves defense stiffened, using a group sack spearheaded by Cameron Glenn and two incomplete passes, the last on a fourth-and-goal from the 10, to shut down the Natchez threat.

The Braves offense, however, didn’t take advantage of the big stand by the defense. After no gain on first down, two false starts and a chop block pushed the ball back to the three, dangerously close to the South Jones goal line. Quarterback John Mitchell then kept the ball on third down and was taken out of bounds at the 8 with 3:39 left to play, setting up a fourth down punt from deep in their own territory. Punter Mark Diers, on what looked like a busted play, was forced out of bounds at the 8-yard line. Natchez took over there, just a few short strides from the end zone.

Natchez was penalized on a first down holding call, shifting the ball back to the 22, but two quick passes, the second a scoring toss to Cornelius Bailey with 2:55 left to play, pulled the Bulldogs closer. Quarterback Paul Hargrave then connected with Myzell Myles on the two-point conversion to slice the deficit to 24-20.

On the Braves next series, Mitchell fumbled inside South Jones’ territory at the 41, giving Natchez one last glimmer of hope with 1:26 remaining in the game. The Braves dropped Hargrave at the line of scrimmage on first down, but the big QB found Desnick Bolden at the 23 on second down. After a first down incompletion from there, Hargrave slipped a seven-yard completion in to Myles before misfiring on third down.

Facing fourth down from the 16, Hargrave lofted the ball toward his 6’4” junior receiver, James Singleton, in the end zone. The tall wide-out pulled down the ball with 39 ticks showing on the game clock. The PAT was true, giving the Bulldogs a 27-24 lead.

The stunning turn of events in the final minutes erased a fine overall effort by the Braves, who overcame an early 6-0 Natchez advantage with a 35-yard field goal by Diers and a 15-yard TD run by Mitchell to lead by four at the half. South Jones extended that 10-6 lead to 17-6 on a three-yard plunge by tailback Vekelion Campbell early in the second half.

Natchez trimmed the lead to 17-12 on a 21-yard dash by Javontae Davis at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter. South Jones added their final points of the evening with a 43-yard scoring march that culminated with Mitchell crossing the goal line with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter, putting the Braves up by a dozen points, 24-12, and setting up the unlikely finish a short time later.

South Jones will travel to Summit, Miss., next weekend to take on North Pike.