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Second round matchup pits GCHS against defending South State Champs
By RUSSELL TURNER
Greene County’s offense struggled to find its rhythm last Friday night against visiting McComb. But, that wasn’t a huge deal for the Wildcats as the GCHS defense stepped up in a big way to lead the team to a 35-8 win and set up a showdown with top-ranked East Central in the second round of the MHSAA Playoffs this week.
The Wildcat defense not only kept the Tigers out of the endzone until the last seconds of the game, but was also directly responsible for three of the GCHS touchdowns in the win.
“McComb changed their defense from what we had seen on film and it was difficult to pick up their blitzing linebackers,” Head Coach Mike King said. “They played man-to-man coverage on our receivers and were really successful putting pressure on our quarterback.”
“But, our defense held them in check all night and with the defensive scoring for us that was the difference in the ball game.”
Greene County got on the board late in the first quarter with a 15-play, 95-yard drive. Junior quarterback Jacob Mitchell finished things off with a 1-yard touchdown and Josh Cook nailed the PAT to put the Cats ahead 7-0 with 2:33 left in the first quarter.
The Cats extended the lead to 14-0 less than a minute into the second quarter. Juniors Anthony Calhoun and Jaheim Cooper wrapped up a Tiger running back near midfield and Calhoun took full advantage, stripping the ball away from the McComb player and sprinting untouched 50 yards for a TD. The PAT by Cook gave GCHS a 14-0 lead, which the Cats would carry into halftime.
The Greene County offense got rolling early in the third quarter and put together another nice scoring drive, this one covering 75 yards in 10 plays. Senior running back Santez Campbell punched it in from two yards out that time and with the PAT by Cook GCHS led 21-0 with 7:15 left in the quarter.
Another big defensive play set up the Wildcats’ next touchdown. Senior linebacker Noah Mitchell sacked the Tiger quarterback on fourth down at the McComb 4-yard-line and two plays later Campbell was in the endzone again, this time for a 3-yard TD run. Cook’s PAT pushed the lead to 28-0 with six minutes left to play.
On the first play after the kickoff, Calhoun came up with a big hit on a McComb ball carrier causing a fumble. Sophomore Dre Grice scooped up the loose ball and returned it 27 yards for the touchdown. With the PAT by Cook, GCHS was in full control with a 35-0 lead and just 5:49 remaining in the game.
McComb was able to put together a sustained drive in the final minutes as GCHS rotated numerous players onto defense to build experience and get the starters out of the game. The Tigers lone TD came on a short run with just seconds left on the clock and the 2-point-conversion took care of the final seconds as McComb bumped the final score to 35-8.
“I was disappointed with the penalties we had,” King added. “That was uncharacteristic compared to the past several weeks and something we have to get cleaned up.”
“It wasn’t exactly like we would have scripted it, but we are happy with the playoff win.”
In all, GCHS forced five fumbles and recovered three of them. Cooper, Ladon Woullard and Blake Daughdrill were each credited with a caused fumble, while Calhoun forced two.
Woullard and Noah Mitchell were the team’s leading tacklers with 11 apiece, while Daughdrill finished with 10. Malachi Graham and Drake Walley had five tackles each, while Josh Bolton and Hunter McLeod each added four.
Offensively, Jacob Mitchell was intercepted twice and did not complete a TD, but still had a solid night passing the football. He finished with 239 yards on 22-of-28 passing and added a rushing touchdown.
Campbell finished with 161 all-purpose yards and two TDs. He had 64 yards on 16 carries and added 97 yards receiving on six receptions. Senior Que Washum also had six catches, good for 70 yards. And, Drake Henderson pulled down five catches for 47 yards, while Peyton
Roberts had 22 yards on three catches.
With the win, Coach King’s 20th since becoming the Cats’ head coach, GCHS improved to 9-3 on the season. McComb finished 4-6-1 on the year.
Bring on the Hornets
The win over McComb sets up a clash with the highly-touted East Central Hornets this Friday on the road at Hurley.
The Hornets entered the season as a favorite to make it back to the State Championship game for the second year in a row. They’ve done nothing to dampen those high expectations as they come into Friday’s matchup undefeated and ranked as the No. 1 team in Mississippi in the final regular season Associated Press poll.
Coach King said the Hornets are fully deserving of all the accolades, but is excited about the opportunity ahead of his team.
“There is a reason they are ranked the way they are,” King said. “They’ve lost one game over the past two years and that was to Noxubee County in the championship game last year.”
“They came into this season with high expectations and have lived up to those expectations.”
Unlike last season when they rolled over teams with a high-octane offense, the 2018 version has dominated opponents with defense. Through their 10 games thus far, they’ve allowed only 88 total points, with many of those coming late in lopsided wins.
Leading the defense are seniors Avery White and Joel Reiser. White (#24) is the team’s leading tackler at middle linebacker with nearly a dozen tackles per game. Reiser (#21) has seven stops per game at defensive end. Others to watch are juniors Trace Higginbotham (#31, DT) and Zach Jones (#25, LB), along with seniors Bryce Eubanks (#99, DT) and Jarrett Goff (#12, LB).
One of the Hornets’ biggest strengths is the ability to force turnovers, which they have done 24 times this season. They have recorded 11 total interceptions with Senior Branson Davis (#20, DB) leading the way with five picks, while Jones follows with two. Higginbotham leads the team with four caused fumbles and three he’s recovered.
While the offense isn’t considered the strength of the team, it certainly isn’t shabby either. The Hornets have put 378 total points, posting over 35 points in eight of those. They do it with a hard-nosed rushing attack which piles up yardage, while also dominating time of possession.
Senior Dylan Grinsteinner (#9, Jr.) leads the way, averaging over 111 yards per game. He has five with over 100 yards rushing and has piled up 14 touchdowns. He had 201 yards and four TDs on 15 carries last week against Quitman.
Grinsteinner isn’t alone, however. Junior quarterback Will Young has just eight completions for 165 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, but is second on the squad with 506 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He too came up big in the first round matchup with the Panthers, putting up 114 yards and two TDs on 14 carries.
Senior Cameron Gray (#3) also plays big into the Hornets’ rushing attack and has averaged almost 80 yards per game this season, including 82 on 10 carries last week.
“East Central has a dominant running game and they play harder for four quarters than any team we’ve played this year,” King said. “They are okay with gaining three yards per play and running the clock.”
“We can’t beat East Central if we commit the same type of errors we did (vs McComb). We have to play well. It’s a big opportunity for us and we are looking forward to it.”
Game time is set for 7 p.m. Friday in Hurley. Tickets are once again $8.
Fans unable to make it to the game are encouraged to follow the Wildcats’ live game broadcast online at www.nfhsnetwork.com.