ELLISVILLE --- Five turnovers spelled disaster for Pearl River and a 34-16 victory for home-standing Jones County in the 83rd ’Cat Fight played here Saturday on Sim Cooley Field to open MACJC South Division play for both teams.
Undefeated and 19th-ranked JCJC took full advantage of the visiting Wildcats’ miscues, cashing in on the first two to take a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
Jones, which played turnover-free, improved to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in division play, while Pearl River dropped to 1-2 and 0-1.
“You can’t commit five turnovers and expect to beat anybody in this league,” said first-year PRCC head coach William Jones. “Win the turnover battle and you’ll likely win the football game 95 percent of the time. It’s unfortunate for our guys.
“We had many opportunities to get back into the game only to see a turnover kill that opportunity,” he continued. “You can’t play that way against a team the caliber of Jones County and expect to win.”
Surprisingly, the Wildcats held a considerable advantage in time of possession, running 76 plays to the Bobcats’ 58; while The River generated 25 first downs to JCJC’s 23.
PRCC’s Scottie Merrill of Picayune High fumbled the ball away six plays into the game’s opening possession and the Bobcats recovered at the Wildcat 49. Ten plays later, quarterback Steven Swindle, an Oak Grove High product, hit JaMichael Willis with a 15-yard scoring pass. Grant McLaurin’s extra point was good and JCJC led 7-0 with 9:19 left in the opening quarter.
After Chad Cook of Long Beach High returned the ensuing kickoff 24 yards to his own 39, Wildcat quarterback Shaun White out of Catholic High in Pensacola, Fla., was intercepted by Charles Lewis, who returned his pick to his own 25. Three snaps later, Swindle zipped a 45-yard completion to Dylan Bossier to the Wildcat eight.
An errant snap saw Swindle lose 18 yards to the 23 and a play later McLaurin arrived to boot a 31-yard field goal to make it 10-0 Bobcats with 6:10 left in the first.
Pearl River answered with a scoring drive of its own, marching 55 yards in 15 plays to set up a 30-yard field goal by Mark Moore of Hattiesburg High to make it 10-3 less than a minute into the second quarter.
After Jones County went three and out on its ensuing possession, Cook returned McLaurin’s punt six yards to the Bobcat 41. The Wildcats cashed in again nine plays later with another Moore field goal --- this time for 27 yards to cut the Bobcats’ lead to 10-6 with 9:18 left in the half.
JCJC then cranked things up at its own 26 and took only seven plays to pad its lead. After moving to the PRCC 48 in four plays, Swindle hit Lewis with a 23-yard completion to the 15 and a six-yard carry by Justin Harris set the stage for nine-yard TD pass to Quartez Cooks. McLaurin’s PAT made it 17-6 with 7:36 left in the half.
Pearl River drove 69 yards in 17 plays on its last possession of the half to score its only touchdown of the night five seconds before the halftime gun.
Starting at his own 31, White converted a third and nine with a 15-yard completion to Shaun Jones of North Forrest High then found Jones again with a 13-yarder to the Jones County 40. Darrell Robinson of Noxubee County High, who had a coming out party in the contest with 111 rushing yards on 23 carries, then burst for 12 to the 28.
Four snaps later, Mississippi Gulf Coast transfer Detrick Goff, a Hancock County High product, converted a fourth and one with a three-yard plunge to the 16 before Robinson’s back-to-back carries for a combined 11 yards pushed things to the five. Three snaps later, Moore arrived only to miss a 26-yard field goal, but was redeemed via a Bobcat penalty on the play. Two plays later, Goff scored from the one and Moore’s PAT cut JCJC’s lead to 17-13.
A Jones County play later, the half ended.
The Bobcats padded their lead on the opening possession of the third with a 13-play, 91-yard drive with McLaurin booting a 22-yard field goal to make it 20-13 JCJC with 10:54 left in the quarter. Swindle went six-for-10 for 66 yards on the drive, including three completions to Willis for 40 yards.
Pearl River cranked up its ensuing possession at its own 25 and moved 35 yards to the Jones County 40 in seven snaps only to see Robinson fumble after a five-yard gainer and the Bobcats recovered. JCJC managed a first down via a 13-yard run by Harris on the first play of the possession, but the Wildcats stymied Kenneth Coleman four snaps later for a minus-five on a fourth and two at their own 44.
It appeared PRCC was headed for a three and out, but punter Brandon King of Florence High faked his attempt and zipped a 19-yard completion to Ty Northern of Rosa Fort High to push things to the JCJC 31. After Merrill ran for 11 to the 20, the drive stalled and Moore booted a 38-yard field goal to cut the Bobcats’ lead to 20-16 with 2:33 left in the third.
But Jones County quickly answered. Kenneth Coleman returned the ensuing kickoff 21 yards to his own 41, then Harris burst for five before a 15-yard penalty on the Wildcats moved things to the PRCC 39. Swindle followed with back-to-back completions to Willis --- the last a 22-yard scoring strike. McLaurin’s extra point made it 27-16 with 1:26 left in the third quarter.
After Charles Ducksworth of Mize High returned the ensuing kickoff 20 yards to his own 25, Merrill ran for five and White hit Akeem Pollard of Petal High with a five-yard completion only to see Pollard cough up the ball and JCJC recover at the Wildcat 25. The quarter ended after a Harris nine-yard run and the Bobcats managed to drive to the PRCC 12, but McLaurin missed on a 29-yard field goal attempt.
Pearl River then managed to drive to the Jones County 34 only to see Moore miss on a 51-yard field goal attempt.
After a motion penalty on the Bobcats, Swindle immediately hit Willis with a 71-yard catch-and-run scoring pass for the game’s final touchdown. McLaurin’s extra point ended the scoring.
White was intercepted by D’Andre Jackson seven plays into the Wildcats’ final possession.
Jones County finished with 432 yards of total offense (109 rush, 323 pass) to Pearl River’s 324 (157 rush, 167 pass).
Besides Robinson, Merrill rushed for a career-high 50 yards on 11 attempts for PRCC; while Harris led JCJC with 63 yards on 13 carries.
Swindle was 21 of 31 (no interceptions) for 323 yards --- nine of which were to Willis for 189. White completed 20 of 29 (two interceptions) for 148 yards, while King was one for one for 19.
Shaun Jones led the Wildcats with seven catches for 67 yards.
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE MACJC
In other week three action around the MACJC, top-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast defeated eighth-ranked Hinds 41-34 in Raymond, sixth-ranked and reigning state champion Copiah-Lincoln shutout East Central 23-0 in Decatur, 12th-ranked Itawamba dropped Mississippi Delta 23-13 in Fulton, Northeast Mississippi trimmed Holmes 17-14 in Booneville, Northwest Mississippi defeated Coahoma 38-23 in Clarksdale, and fifth-ranked East Mississippi bombed Southwest Mississippi 69-0 in Scooba.
NEXT WEEK IN THE MACJC
Next week in the MACJC (all Thursday games) sees Coahoma (0-3, 0-1) hosting Pearl River (1-2, 0-1) in Clarksdale for the only intra-divisional game of the week, while in the South Division, Copiah-Lincoln (3-0, 1-0) hosts Hinds (2-1, 0-1) in Wesson, Southwest Mississippi (1-2, 0-0) hosts East Central (0-3, 0-1) in Summit, and Mississippi Gulf Coast (3-0, 1-0) hosts Jones County (3-0, 1-0) in Perkinston. In the North, Mississippi Delta (0-3, 0-1) hosts East Mississippi (3-0, 0-0) in Moorhead, Holmes (0-3, 0-1) hosts Itawamba (3-0, 1-0) in Goodman, and Northwest Mississippi (1-2, 1-0) hosts Northeast Mississippi (1-2, 1-0) in Senatobia.