Crosby Hall

Wildcats rally for 35-21 victory over Bears in division opener

POPLARVILLE - Pearl River''s Wildcats rallied from a startling 14-0 first-quarter deficit to take an impressive 35-21 come-from-behind victory over previously-undefeated Southwest Mississippi to open both squads'' MACJC South Division schedules here Thursday in John I. Hurst Stadium.The home-standing Bears slapped 14 points on The River right off the bat - off a total of 11 offensive snaps - in the first eight minutes of the contest. All PRCC partisans on hand, to say the least, were stunned, not to mention ninth-year Wildcat head coach Tim Hatten."Who would''ve ever thought it," he said. "We knew going in they (Southwest) were a good football team, but we never thought we''d be looking at a two-touchdown margin at any point of the game...particularly in the first quarter."SMCC, which dropped to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in division play is the loss, scored its first two TDs on its first three possessions of the night."We made it easy for them early," explained Hatten, whose Wildcats improved to 2-1 and 1-0, explained. "Defensively, we were out of position and didn''t tackle well at all. We were reckless, to say the least. But we finally settled in and got down to business and managed to pull out the win."Pearl River managed a catch-up score with 22 seconds left in the opening period, but Southwest speed demon Mardavian Martin returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to the Wildcat 24. And it took quarterback Vintavious Cooper only two successive keepers to run in for the Bears'' third and final touchdown of the night.The Wildcats finished the night with 477 yards (379 pass, 98 rush) of total offense with 279 of that total coming in the first half. Conversely, the Bears totaled 379 offensive yards (237 rush, 16 pass) in the game with 279 coming in the first two quarters - only 100 in the second half.SMCC''s Josh Hawkins returned the game''s opening kickoff 28 yards to his own 40 and it took the Bears only six plays to cash in. Cooper did the scoring honors on a 27-yard keeper with 11:52 left in the period. Brandon Thomas kicked the extra point to make it 7-0.After Southwest held the Wildcats to a three and out, PRCC thwarted the Bears following series when defensive back Delvin Ervin of Oak Grove High picked off an SMCC pass at his own 15. But, again, The River went three and out and Ryan Knight of Sumrall High boomed a 42-yard unreturned punt to the SMCC 39.The Bears struck again on first down when Tray Bateaste took a Cooper hand off and rambled 61 yards to the end zone. Thomas'' PAT made it 14-0 with 6:03 left in the first.But Pearl River answered. Starting at its own 18, quarterback Melvin German of Fort Myers, Fla., engineered a 12-play scoring series with running back Marcquis Smith of Hattiesburg High capping the drive with a two-yard plunge with 22 seconds left in the first period. German went four for six for 63 yards through the air in the drive. Knight''s extra point kick made it 14-7.Southwest padded its lead to 21-7 on the ensuing possession after Martin''s 60-yard kickoff return and Cooper''s scoring run, but PRCC responded quickly.Steve McNair, Jr., returned the following kickoff 20 yards and his effort was padded by a five-yard SMCC penalty to put the Wildcats in business at their own 38. German passed to McNair on first down for 13 yards, then again on the next snap with McNair taking the lateral and passing to Seth Roberts of Tallahassee, Fla., for a 49-yard score. Knight''s extra point made it 21-14 with 14:05 left in the half.After Southwest went three and out on its next possession, German guided the Wildcats 90 yards 10 plays to tie it up. German went four for six for 37 yards on the drive, while keeping three times for 43, including a dazzling 28-yard run on a fourth and 12 for the score. Knight''s kick knotted things at 21-21 with 9:10 left before the intermission.After an exchange of punts, SMCC drove 35 yards to the Wildcats'' 27-yard line in six snaps only to see Cooper throw incomplete on a fourth and 11. PRCC took over and the half ended seven plays later.The River took the lead for good on the opening possession of the third quarter. Starting at their own 43, German hit Snoop Rollins of North Forrest High on first down with a 14-yard completion before targeting Roberts with a 28-yarder to the Southwest 15. After an incompletion, German found McNair in the end zone for the go-ahead score. Knight''s boot made it 28-21 with 13:47 left in the third.Cooper coughed up the ball at his own 24 on the second snap of Southwest''s ensuing possession and Derrick Bourne of Columbia High recovered for the Wildcats. Five plays later, German kept for an eight-yard TD. Knight''s extra point made it 35-21 with 11:03 left in the third.Defensive back Otha Foster of Varnado (La.) High ended SMCC''s next possession when he intercepted Cooper and returned his pick 10 yards to his own 42. After Steve Simon of East Marion High was dropped for a minus-four on first down, German delivered five straight completions for a combined 47 yards, then kept for nine on a second and 10 to the Southwest six. An incomplete pass later, Dunzie Goins of Lumberton High plowed up the middle but was stopped cold inches short of the first down.The Bears managed to drive to the Wildcats'' 45 in seven snaps, but a SMCC holding penalty pushed things back 10 yards before McNair intercepted Cooper at the PRCC 33 and returned his pick 44 yards to the Bear 13.German fumbled for a minus-13 yards on second and nine before hitting Duncan with a 16-yard completion on third and 22. An illegal procedure penalty pushed the Wildcats back to the 14 where Knight was wide left on a 29-yard field goal attempt.Three punt exchanges later, Pearl River killed the lock with a five-play, game-ending series.PRCC finished the game with 23 first downs to SMCC''s 17 and drew 10 penalty flags for 80 yards. Southwest drew the same number, but for 100 yards.Roberts led all receivers in the contest with six for 131 yards, while McNair had seven catches for 82, Duncan four for 52, Simon seven for 44, Rollins six for 44, and Jhyryan Taylor of Franklinton, La., two for 26.German wrapped up the game with a combined total of 394 offensive yards, including a 31-of-41 (no interceptions) passing effort for 330 yards while leading all PRCC rushers with 64 yards on 12 carries. McNair had one completion for a 49-yard TD.Cooper paced SMCC rushers with 92 yards on 17 attempts, while Bateaste had 87 on six, and Martin 54 on 10.Knight punted four times for a 44-yard average, while Southwest''s Justin Holt booted four times for a 43-yard average.Other Week Three Action In The MACJCIn other South Division action around the MACJC, 16th-ranked Copiah-Lincoln smacked 18th-ranked Hinds 30-17 in Raymond; while in the North Division, 11th-ranked Northwest Mississippi trimmed defending division and state champ East Mississippi 25-19 in Scooba, Northwest Mississippi smacked Mississippi Delta 26-13 in Moorhead, and Coahoma bombed Holmes 41-14 in Clarksdale. In the week''s only non-division match up, Itawamba dropped East Central 21-14 in Decatur.On Saturday, 21st-ranked Jones County hosts second-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast at 7 p.m. in Ellisville.Next Week In The MACJCSix of next Thursday''s seven games will be division battles with Mississippi Delta (0-3, 0-1) hosting Hinds (2-1, 0-1) in Moorhead in the only intra-divisional contest set for Week 4.Elsewhere, the North sees Northwest Mississippi (3-0, 1-0) hosting Coahoma (2-1, 1-0) in Senatobia, Itawamba (1-2, 0-0) hosting East Mississippi (0-3, 0-1) in Fulton, and Holmes (0-3, 0-1) hosting Northeast Mississippi (1-3, 1-0) in Goodman. In the South, Pearl River (2-1, 1-0) hosts East Central (0-3, 0-0) in Poplarville, Copiah-Lincoln (3-0, 1-0) hosts Jones County (2-0, 0-0, plays MGCCC Saturday) in Wesson, and Mississippi Gulf Coast (2-0, 0-0, plays JCJC Saturday) hosts Southwest Mississippi (2-1, 0-1) in Perkinston.