Purvis hits the road again for second round to play Florence

By CAMAL PETRO,

A lot of things had to go right for the Purvis Tornadoes last Friday, but those things went right. Purvis coach Perry Wheat said his team caught “a couple of breaks,” but in the end, his players had to make plays to beat top-seeded Mendenhall in the first round of the 4A playoffs.

“It was a pretty exciting ballgame, and we were fortunate to come out on top,” Wheat said. “It was close, very close. We’re just glad to be able to play again another week.”

The Tornadoes needed a 2-point conversation late in the fourth quarter to push the game to overtime, then after the Tigers scored a touchdown but unsuccessful on the 2-point play, Purvis scored a touchdown on fourth down and made the point-after-attempt to finish the comeback.

Drew Powell made the defensive stop on Mendenhall’s 2-point play, and senior C.J. Bolar caught junior Mason Kendrick’s pass on the fourth-down touchdown for Purvis.

“It was just a matter of our kids playing hard all the way through, but things looked pretty bleak early,” Wheat said. “They jumped up 14-0 early, and Jesse Johnson intercepted a pass that kind of got us going early in the game. From there, we just kept fighting, got a break or two and was able to get the win.”

Kendrick, who is better known for his defensive play but has played quarterback in the past, came into the game as the signal caller because senior Ty Howell got nicked up.

The last time Purvis and its second round opponent, Florence (8-4), played was a third-round contest last season. The Eagles took down the Tornadoes 28-7 in that matchup, but Wheat said his team really isn’t talking about it.

It is a completely different season, after all.

“We haven’t really talked about that part,” he said. “There just a team we have to beat to keep going. They’re kind of a different team. They have some of the same players, but they’re a different team, and we are as well. It’s just a football game we have to prepare for like any other, and we have to try to be good.”

An accurate quarterback and a 6-foot, 190-pound running back lead Florence on offense. Sophomore Ian Vaughn has completed 127-of-205 passes (62 percent) for 2,169 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s had two games for which he passed for more than 300 yards, and strangely enough, both of those were losses.

When he’s completed 64 percent of his passes or better, the Eagles are 5-1, and anything less than that number, they’re 3-3.

“The quarterback is the guy who makes them go, and he manages the offense,” Wheat said. “They’re a big ‘check with me’ team at the line of scrimmage to change plays and stuff like that, so he’s a very important part to their offense, for sure. They have a pretty simple scheme, but they do it pretty good and they’ve got good size up front. I think the two (offensive) tackles are like 295 (pounds) and 320, or something like that.”

The size difference between Florence’s offense and Purvis’ defense could be a factor, too.

“It’s going to be tough on us because we’re really small,” Wheat said. “We’re going to have to keep our pad-level low, attack and hope we can stop the run.”

The Eagles’ defense is coming off two strong performances the past two weeks. They allowed Pass Christian to score seven points in last week’s second-round game, then Jackson Lanier put up 12 in a Florence win. Before that, though, South Pike scored 42 points on the defense and McComb had 33 points in back-to-back losses.

The same size from the offensive line can be seen on the defensive front, too.

“They’re aggressive, and again, they’re big inside,” Wheat said. “They’re kind of a four-man front mostly and play cover 3 and man free, so they’ll mix it up. They’ve play good defense as of late.”