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GCHS looks to improve to 2-0 in region play as Stone Co. visits this Fri.
By BRAD CROWE
Week 1 of Region 8-4A competition was smooth sailing for the Greene County Wildcats, who caught a wave of momentum during last Friday’s 40-0 road win over the Bay Tigers.
The Wildcats now hope that momentum will propel them toward even more success during a 3-week home stand that begins this Friday against the visiting Stone Tomcats.
In Bay St. Louis, the Wildcats set the tone early with an 11-play, 69-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter that ended with a 1-yard run into the end zone by sophomore Keenan Franks. The Tigers’ responding drive was stopped in the red zone with an interception by fellow sophomore B.J. Johnson, and Greene County’s offense capitalized with another long scoring drive that was capped off with a 1-yard push for a TD by senior quarterback Conner West.
Head coach Mike King said the offense’s and defense’s ability to feed off one another’s success throughout the contest was invaluable in the team’s efforts to secure a third straight victory.
“We had a lot of confidence-building drives on offense and confidence-building turnovers and stops made on defense,” King explained. “Our guys did a great job of capitalizing on opportunities and made big plays when we needed them.”
A 43-yard TD run by Franks capped an 8-play, 84-yard scoring drive for GCHS and gave them a 20-0 lead going into halftime. Franks added an 11-yard TD run in the third quarter as the Cats rolled off 20 more points in the second half.
A big hit by senior Ethan Roberts on the Tigers’ ensuing possession and led to a 48-yard scoop-and-score fumble return for a TD by his classmate Keaton Hollinghead. Senior Dalarrus Cooper provided the final TD of the night with a 15-yard run to cap a 10-play, 85-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
King believes the challenges his team faced while fighting through a tough non-district schedule helped prepare his players to compete at a high level in district play.
“Our non-district schedule was pretty tough, and I don’t think some of our district opponents challenged themselves in that same way with games that were as hard as ours,” King said. “A lot of times you have teams build a false sense of confidence in how good they are because they have a 4-1 record, but if you look at the teams they played, it might not have prepared them for district play to the same extent that I believe ours did.”
The surging success of Franks in his new role on the offense continued to be a big factor for the Wildcats. The sophomore rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns on only nine carries against the Tigers. It was his second 100-yard performance and second multiple-touchdown game since King’s decision to place West in the starting quarterback position and utilize Franks’ abilities in more versatile ways. King said Franks’ willingness to embrace his new role has not only allowed him to continue thriving individually but says a lot about the Wildcats’ team-first mentality.
“I think that’s the ultimate definition of what it means to be a team player,” King said. “A lot of times in today’s culture it’s all about ‘I, me and my,’ but we’re all about ‘we, us, and together as a team.’ When you have a young man like (Franks) who is more interested in doing what he can do to help the team than his own individual aspirations, that’s really encouraging for all of us. So it says a lot about him, and I think it says a lot about our culture here in Greene County.”
Defensively, GCHS had one of its better all-around games. While the Cats did bend on defense at times, they also came up with big plays when they needed them most to ensure the shutout win. Junior linebacker Devin Dueitt led the way with ten tackles, including a sack and another tackle for a loss, and a fumble recovery. Roberts added six tackles and a caused fumble, while junior Isaac McLeod had five total stops. Seniors Aiden Smith and Hollinghead rounded out the top statistical performances with three solo tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss each.
Now, as the Wildcats prepare to pursue a fourth-straight win over the visiting 1-3 Tomcats, King said he hopes his players will continue to build on the momentum they’ve built over the past three weeks — not only this Friday, but potentially later in the season when the ability to win road games can make all the difference.
“If we’re fortunate enough to get into the playoffs and have to travel, hopefully those experiences will work in our favor,” King said. “During my first stint here, we were eliminated in second-round road playoff games. Some of those games were two and a half hours away, and those trips can be really tough for a team, but these guys have proved they’re capable of overcoming those challenges, and hopefully that can come into play in the future.”
“But for now,” King added, “we’re excited to be back home in front of our home crowd. We’ve only had one home game so far this year against George County, and that one didn’t end so well. So hopefully these last three wins will bring fans out to Johnny Ainsworth Field with a little buzz and optimism about them, and hopefully we can put a great product on the field that everyone will enjoy seeing.”