A lot on the line as undefeated GCHS faces the Hornets in a battle of top ranked 4A teams
By RUSSELL TURNER
It wasn’t exactly how the Wildcats would have scripted it, but Coach Mike King and his Greene County High School team took care of business on the road this past Friday at Moss Point. GCHS scored 13 first half points and held on to defeat the Tigers by a 13-7 margin and improve to 6-0 on the season.
The win sets up a huge matchup this week at Poplarville as the Wildcats travel to take on the highly-touted Hornets in a battle of unbeaten teams, which also happens to be the region opener for both. It is a key game for the Region 7-4A rivals and one that is drawing a lot of attention from across the state. Poplarville is considered the top team in Class 4A football in Mississippi and currently ranked as the No. 7 team in the state in the Associated Press Poll, which was released Tuesday. The Wildcats enter the game as the AP’s fifth-ranked team in 4A and looking to make a statement in their fifth straight road game of the year.
The last time there was this much buzz surrounding a Greene County High School football team was in late 2012 when the Wildcats were preparing to play in their second state championship game. Coach Mike King was the offensive coordinator for Greene County that season, but most current Wildcat players had not even played in a junior high game at that point.
King, who is in his first season as a head coach, remembers vividly how high the expectations were for Greene County football back then. He’s glad to see those expectations building again and is looking forward to seeing how his team will respond against the Hornets.
“It is great for our kids and our program to have Greene County football back on the map again,” King said. “These guys were hungry for success and have worked so hard together, so I am excited to see that paying off.”
“Obviously, this will be our biggest test of the season thus far for sure. Poplarville is really good. They took down Picayune and Stone County and are playing at a high level.”
King and his players have respect for the Hornets, but aren’t showing any fear. That was clear when a reporter questioned a few of them after the win at Moss Point about the 60-13 whipping Poplarville put on GCHS a year ago en route to their South State Championship.
“That’s the past,” senior Tagg Creech said before the reporter could complete the question. “It’s a new season. They’re good, we’re good. It’s just whoever wants it more.”
Hornets tout strong running game and stingy defense
While it appears safe to say Creech hits the nail on the head when discussing how the Wildcats are approaching this matchup, that doesn’t mean the GCHS players and coaches aren’t fully aware of the challenge ahead of them.
Poplarville entered the season as a favorite to make it back to the MHSAA championships this year and they have not disappointed the voters in the polls. They are off to a 5-0 start, which started with an impressive, 27-24 come-from-behind win over Picayune to start the season. They followed that with wins over Pearl River Central (42-6), Seminary (47-0), Stone County (20-14) and Heidelberg (33-14). They were off this past week.
The Hornets success is due in large part to the prowess of its running game. In all, six Hornets have rushing touchdowns this year. Senior tailback Austin Bolton (#5, 5-8, 170) got off to a big start this season and is averaging almost 190 yards per game. Through five games Bolton has rushed for 947 yards and 13 touchdowns on 76 carries.
Senior Roosevelt Raine (#23, 6-1, 208) has almost as many carries as Bolton on the season (68) and has put up 538 yards and five scores. Junior Tyson Holston (#8, 5-9, 170) follows with 271 yards and two TDs, while sophomore Cory Knight (#21, 5-4, 165) has rushed for three touchdowns and 144 yards.
Junior quarterback Antonio Barnes has completed 10-of-22 passes for 175 yards. He doesn’t have a TD to his credit and has been picked off twice. Junior Canaan Ray (#17, 5-11, 159) and Holston are the two leading receivers, with four and five catches, respectively.
Defensively, Poplarville is led by linebackers Ross Barnett (#15, Jr., 5-10, 175) and Peytan Graham (#32, Sr., 5-11, 230), who have combined for 23 tackles per game. Chandler Norris (#66, Soph., 6-1, 252) and Mario Barnes (#44, Jr., 5-9, 202) anchor the defensive line for PHS and are the third and fourth leading tacklers on the team.
It promises to be quite the matchup. Greene County’s defense, which has been dominant so far, is going to have to step up big to keep Bolton and company in check. And, the Wildcat offense, which has been balanced in its attack thus far, is going to have to find a way to make big plays, while avoiding penalties and turnovers.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday in Poplarville. Wildcat fans going to the game should plan to leave a little early and plan for heavy traffic around the stadium as PHS will be celebrating Homecoming on top of hosting one of the premier football matchups in the state this week.
Wildcat fans unable to go to the game can watch the Herald’s live stream of the matchup online on GCTV. Just click the GCTV icon at www.greenecountyheraldonline.com or go directly to http://mscitylinktv.com/channel/leakesville-gctv/.
First half leads Cats over Moss Point
Friday’s matchup at Moss Point was not the cleanest game for GCHS this year. However, in Wildcat fashion, Coach King’s team did enough to secure a key road win.
Senior quarterback Derrick Grice had another solid game for GCHS, running for one touchdown and throwing for another. He got the Wildcats on the board with a 1-yard run midway through the second quarter and tossed a 15-yard TD pass to Creech with 10 seconds left before the half to put GCHS ahead by 13 going into the locker room.
Creech was solid again as well, picking up 71 yards on 15 touches to go along with the touchdown catch. He handled punting and punt return duties and also kicked the Wildcats’ lone PAT. He was a little banged up in the second half, but returned to help his team with a key, late-game interception.
Moss Point tightened down in the second half on the defensive side of the ball and made a late surge on offense, thanks to several big plays by running back Tytus Miles. They closed the gap to 13-7 on a 7-yard run by Miles with just over a minute left to play, but Creech scooped up the onside kick attempt and the Wildcats were able to run the clock out from there.
“Moss Point was very athletic and they played hard,” King said. “We were conservative in our play calling after getting up by 13 with the way our defense was playing. We didn’t want to give the game away with mistakes.”
“We were hit by some costly flags against us again and had two touchdowns called back, but our guys kept playing hard even when things weren’t going our way. That has been a trademark for this team and is as big reason for our success so far.”
Defensively, GCHS was led by junior Noah Mitchell and Blake Daughdrill, who each had seven tackles. Sophomores Hunter McLeod and Joshua Bolton also came up big with four tackles apiece. Drake Walley and Dylan McDonald rounded out the tackle leader board with three stops each.