POPLARVILLE — Pearl River came to life Thursday. Hosting No. 20 East Central at Dobie Holden Stadium, the Wildcats broke off big plays offensively and played a smothering brand of defense to mount a valiant comeback effort in their 24-21 defeat.
ECCC (3-1, 2-0) capitalized on opportunities early, building a 21-0 lead after the first frame. Both teams traded field goals in the second quarter, with PRCC’s Will Lang (Inverness; Indianola Academy) converting a 39-yarder to break the shutout going into halftime.
The Wildcats' momentum carried over into the second half. Not only did the defense limit the Warriors to just three first downs, but the Wildcat attack also got into a groove.
PRCC (0-4, 0-2) tacked on two points early in the third quarter when an ECCC snap sailed over the punter’s head and out the back of the end zone. The Wildcats capitalized on the ensuing possession, driving 56 yards in nine plays and scoring on a 22-yard kick from Lang.
After a pulverizing third-down sack by Josh Booker Brown (Houston; Westfield), PRCC went back to work. Although PRCC was forced to punt, the ECCC returner muffed the catch and a number of Wildcats jumped on the loose ball — with Peytan Graham (Poplarville) popping up and racing to the sideline. Following a 16-yard run by Ron Thompson (Bassfield), new starting quarterback Tavis Williams (Gulfport; Harrison Central) called his own number and scored on a 3-yard run around the left side.
A failed 2-point attempt brought PRCC within 10 at 24-14.
Midway through the fourth quarter PRCC once again found pay dirt, this time capping a 87-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown strike from Williams to Thompson.
While the defense forced one more three-and-out, PRCC was unable to punch in their final possession.
“We had a good week of practice, we just came in and got better and better,” Thompson said. “We came in and had a talk that we had to clean the mistakes up and we took that to the game and did what we had to do.”
Williams, making his first start at quarterback, completed 9 of 22 passes for 114 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Where he changed the game, however, was with his feet. Had it not been for a couple poor snaps, the QB would have been close to 100 yards rushing. Instead, Williams finished with 68 yards.
"Tavis came in in the 4th quarter last week and made things happen and then he stepped up this week. I told him to believe in himself. When he had a bad throw I told him to get back up and not be down on himself. I told him it’s not on you it’s on everyone as a team.”
Thompson ripped off several long runs, including a 28-yarder, and finished with 128 on a season-high 26 carries.
"The more they gave it to me the more hype I get. I go into beast mode and I get dumb with it,” he said. “It comes natural to me. I told coach hand the ball off to me, throw it to me and I’ll do what I gotta do.”
Hayden Brice (Jackson; St. Joseph) led PRCC with three receptions for 29 yards. Tyler Polk (St. Martin) led the Wildcats with 43 receiving yards on two catches. Kiante Payton (St. Martin; Brandon) and Thomson each had two receptions for 22 and 20 yards respectively.
Although PRCC wasn’t able to cash in on the play, Damian Gray (Clarksdale) came up with one of the bigger defensive plays of the evening. It appeared ECCC was going to break a big pass down the home sideline, but the sophomore defensive back stripped the receiver as he ran past and then pounced on the loose ball.
ECCC’s Mario Asagunla completed 10 of 19 passes for three scores of 15 and 19 yards to Kevontaye Caston and 20 yards to Jaylen Zachery. James Smith III led PRCC with 103 yards on 26 carries.
The Wildcat return to action next Thursday at Hinds. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.