Cats claim huge road win at Poplarville
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GCHS looks to solidify region title, No. 1 seed this week against Purvis Tornadoes
By RUSSELL TURNER
The Poplarville Hornets have gotten the best of Greene County on the football field over the past few seasons, winning four in a row over the Wildcats dating back to the 2015 season.
The Hornets have been a hurdle Coach Mike King had not been able to clear in Region 7-4A since taking over the GCHS program in 2017. Quite frankly, the Wildcats were outgunned by Poplarville in those matchups. That isn’t the case any longer as King’s Wildcats used a dominating second half to claim a 26-7 win in a special Thursday night game at Poplarville last week.
“There weren’t a lot of people outside our program that expected us to go to Poplarville and win,” King said of his team’s victory. “But, our guys have put in the work and preparation and
“They have been the only team to beat us in region play over the past two seasons so it does feel good to get that one. I thought it was a great team effort.”
Both teams were able to move the ball effectively in the first half. The Hornets high-octane was effective in the middle of the field, but the Cats got much stingier on their end of the field. Poplarville’s first two possessions ventured inside the GCHS 35, but both ended on failed fourth down tries.
The Wildcats’ second forced turnover on downs put the Wildcats’ in business at their own 30-yard-line. A 20-yard run by freshman K.J. Miller got things started and senior Anthony Calhoun followed with a 10-yard run to move the chains again. That was close enough for senior quarterback Drake Henderson, who broke free on the next play and outran everyone 40 yards to paydirt. The PAT was no good, but Henderson’s TD put the Cats on top 6-0 with 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Poplarville answered with a solid drive of its own and claimed the lead on yet another fourth down play. This time senior Ethan Taylor was able to find a seam in the GCHS defense and scored on a 16-yard run. The PAT put the home team on top 7-6 with 8:50 remaining in the half.
The Hornets were knocking on the door again on their next possession, but the Wildcats shut down the first-and-goal-to-go situation with their biggest defensive stand of the year.
“We gave some ground in the first half, but our defense kept coming up with big plays,” King said. “Holding that offense to seven points is big.”
The Wildcats had a shot to retake the lead before the half after senior Gary Hawthorne recovered a muffed punt by the Hornets. That didn’t happen, but the Cats had clearly claimed the momentum.
The Wildcats came out of the locker room with a chip on their shoulders and a little extra bounce in their steps. Miller set things up with a gutsy kick return on the second half kickoff. Six plays later, his 9-yard scamper drove the Wildcat side of the field into a frenzy. The PAT by Jacob Mitchell put the Cats on top 13-6 with 9:02 left in the third quarter and it was a lead they would not relinquish.
The ‘bend, but don’t break’ approach worked pretty good for the Wildcats in the first half, as GCHS held the Hornets to seven points, which is tied for their lowest first-half production of the season. But a few adjustments during halftime led to a dominating performance by the Cats in the final two quarters.
After a good kick return, Poplarville was threatening to move into Wildcat territory and possibly retake the lead. But, senior linebacker Ladon Woullard flew through the line of scrimmage and hit the PHS running back two yards deep in the backfield, forcing a fumble, which he eventually recovered at midfield.
The Wildcats couldn’t convert on the opportunity, but their defense had set the tone for the remainder of the game. Poplarville didn’t gain a first down until the fourth quarter and that was the only one GCHS allowed the Hornets to enjoy. The second time the Hornets tried to convert a fourth down led to another big stop by the Wildcat defense and a turnover on downs at the GCHS 33. Henderson took it from there on the next play, dashing 67 yards to put the Cats on top with 6:05 left to play.
The Cats pushed the lead to 26-7 with just over 1:16 left in the game. Senior Anthony Calhoun busted free for a nifty 37-yard run down the visitor’s sideline. Two plays later he scored from three yards out and Mitchell added the PAT for the final points of the game.
Henderson was just 1-of-8 passing for 11 yards, but he led GCHS with 148 yards and two touchdowns in the running game. There were several tough runs among his 15 carries, but bulk of his yardage came on the big TDs.
Calhoun had 72 yards and a TD on 10 carries, while Miller added 58 yards and a touchdown on just four carries. Miller also had an 11-yard reception.
The GCHS offensive line had a solid game as well, particularly in the second half. Linemen rarely get much name recognition for their work in the trenches, but the efforts by Eli Erkhart, Noah Bradley, Caiden Keys, Brandon Sumrall, Mykel McLeod and Cameron Dunnam stood out this week and gained the praise of the Wildcat coaching staff.
“Consistently opening up holes against one of the best defensive lines we’ve seen this season speaks to the development of the guys up front and the mental and physical toughness needed going into the second half to break the will of our opponent,” King said.
Defensively, senior linebackers Jaheim Cooper and Ladon Woullard led the team in tackles. Cooper had 13 on the night, while Woullard had 12 and also added a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Seniors Malachi Graham and Hunter McLeod, along with sophomore Jeremiah Cochran, each had seven tackles. Senior Gary Hawthorne had a big night as well, posting five tackles and a fumble recovery.
Defensive Coordinator Jacob Aycock said he was extremely proud of the effort, particularly from the defensive front.
“Our defensive line played hard against a really good Poplarville offensive line,” Aycock said. “They did a great job of eating up blocks and letting our linebackers run free.”
“I am very proud of the effort we played with all game. It was rewarding to see our defensive backs both make tackles near the line of scrimmage and hold them to zero pass completions.”
Purvis visits Friday with region title on the line
The win pushed GCHS to a 6-3 overall record and into first place in Region 7-4A. Unbeaten in region play with one game left on the schedule, most scenarios have GCHS claiming the region title and the No. 1 playoff seeding that comes with it. However, King and his team don’t want to leave anything to chance, and are squarely focused on taking care of business when the Tornados blow into Wildcat Stadium this Friday.
“We aren’t thinking about any tie-breaker scenarios and stuff like that,” King said. “We want to win this thing outright and we do that if we take care of business and finish the regular season with a win.”
The Tornados will come into the game hoping to cause a 3-way tie at the top of the standings and possibly claim the region title by tie-breaker. They enter the matchup with a 6-4 overall record after winning six of the their past seven games. They started the year with losses to West Marion (0-34), Bay High (14-28) and Pass Christian (36-39). They defeated Perry Central 27-8 to get on the winning trek and rolled off four straight wins over Northeast Jones (34-10), Seminary (26-13), Stone County (42-40) and Sumrall (28-17) before dropping a 61-0 decision at Poplarville two weeks ago. They bounced back with the come-from-behind win at Forrest County AHS (18-13) last week.
Junior quarterback Hunter Robinson (#7, 5-9, 156) leads the Purvis offense. He has thrown for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns, completing 38-of-74 passes along the way, with three interceptions.
Sophomore Ty Badon (#3) leads their rushing attack with 722 yards and six TDs on the season. He has three 100-yard games to his credit and has also pulled in five passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Jesse Johnson (#11, 6-4, 190) is the team’s leading receiver. Johnson has 21 catches on the year for 418 yards and seven TDs.
Defensively, senior Eli Barrett (#37) leads the way with 96 tackles. Senior defensive back Ty Harriel (#8, 6-0, 170) and junior linebacker Mitchell Hall (#30, 6-0, 185) follow with 69 and 67 tackles, respectively.
“We know Purvis is coming in here with a 3-1 record and will be ready to play,” King said. “We aren’t focusing on that. We are putting our attention on making sure we come in focused, play hard and execute our game plan.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. Fans unable to attend the game can watch the action live via livestream video at www.NFHSNetwork.com.