HATTIESBURG – The Hattiesburg Tigers came out firing in their 58-6 season finale win over West Harrison, but Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance had a reason.
Senior quarterback Jarod Conner attempted 18 passes through the first two quarters, and it helped Hattiesburg build a 30-0 lead over the Hurricanes. He passed for 216 yards, too, and that was because Vance wanted to get his senior receiver over 1,000 yards for the season.
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Darius Ruffin finished with 73 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions Friday night, and all of his damage came on the first two quarters for Hattiesburg.
With the potential of a few more games to play, Ruffin now has 1,021 yards and 13 touchdowns on 49 receptions this season, and it came a season after falling short of the benchmark. As a junior, he totaled 991 yards and five touchdowns on 60 grabs.
“It feels great,” Ruffin said. “Like I always say, I don’t really get into my accolades. I’m just trying to help the team, but it was a huge goal for me. Last year, I was a couple of yards off, so I just made a goal that I was going to get 1,000 in the regular season. I’m here, I’m working and it feels great.”
On Hattiesburg’s first possession, he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass on the left hash, then trotted into the end zone to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. Two drives later, Conner, again, found Ruffin, this time over the middle for a 25-yard score to make 30-0.
His last – and longest – reception of the game came at the end of the second quarter when Hattiesburg was trying to extend the lead even more. With just seconds remaining on the clock, Hattiesburg tried to rush down the field for another chance at the end zone, and a 28-yard pass to Ruffin almost set it up. But, a Tigers’ fumble as time expired ended the opportunity.
Vance also wanted his senior running back to get over 1,000 rushing yards, too. Drexlan Allen finished the night with 73 rushing yards and a score on eight carries, and most of his yardage came on the first drive of the second half.
He only had 6 yards through the first two quarters, then he carried the ball six straight times on the opening drive of the second half, totaling 67 yards while scoring an 18-yard touchdown. The run that broke the 1,000-yard milestone was a 22-yarder, as he pushed a pile of would-be West Harrison defenders another 10 yards after the initial stop.
“We had a few guys who were able to reach some milestones as high school football players,” Vance said. “Darius Ruffin went over 1,000 receiving (yards) tonight, and that was one of our goals, to make sure he goes over 1,000 receiving. Not many can say that, so kudos to him.
“Drexlan Allen needed about 50, 60 yards to go over 1,000 (yards) rushing, so that gives us two guys this year with over 1,000 rushing.”
Conner, of course, is the other Hattiesburg player with more than 1,000 rushing yards, as he leads the team with 1,341 yards on the ground and 22 touchdowns on 156 carries. Allen sits at 1,022 yards with 16 scores on 119 attempts.
The win capped off the Tigers’ second straight undefeated regular season, but that’s not the ultimate goal. In 2017, Hattiesburg went 14-0 before losing in the 5A State Championship, so the team still has plenty of boxes left to check.
Still, though, it’s an impressive accomplishment for the Tigers’ football program.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” Vance said. “Like I said, we’ll look back on it that it was a special time, a special couple of years, but to win the division was one of our goals and we’ve accomplished that now. I always tell my players the only way you make sure you do that is to win them all.”
Hattiesburg now turns its attention to another playoff run, and Vance said not much will really change with his team other than the mentality. Ruffin agreed with his head coach.
Brookhaven travels to Hattiesburg Friday for the first-round contest.
“There’s going to be a lot of energy, a lot of passion,” Ruffin said. “Coming into this game, we kind of focused on putting our best product forward. We’re going to come in and work hard next week. It’s going to be a great time.”