Wildcats open season against eighth-ranked Lions Thursday

POPLARVILLE --- Thursday’s Pearl River versus East Mississippi season football opener has the makings of primetime Hollywood drama as new Wildcat head coach William Jones debuts against his former team and boss Buddy Stephens’ eighth-ranked Lion squad.
            Both Stephens and Jones spent seven seasons as assistant coaches at The River before the duo departed after e 2007 season and headed to Scooba  as head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively, where they achieved unprecedented success over the next five years, including five straight MACJC playoff berths, two MACJC championships, and an NJCAA national title in 2011.
            “We had a lot of success up there (Scooba) and I hope my contributions to that will spill over here,” said Jones, who served his inaugural PRCC season under former head coach Scott Maxfield and the next six under Tim Hatten (his head coach predecessor) who guided the Wildcats to four straight state titles (2003 through 2006), including  a national championship berths in 2004 and 2006 --- winning the coveted NJCAA title in 2004.
            “I guess this is probably one of the biggest if not the biggest season opener ever here at Pearl River,” he continued. “With my and Buddy’s connection over the last 12 years, there’s a lot of drama surrounding it...I can’t argue that point.
            “I know first hand we’ll have our hands full. We’re going up against a very talented, well-coached team that would like no better than to knock us off,” Jones continued. “Our jobs as coaches is to get our guys ready to play and let the chips fall where they may.”
            The Wildcats have been losers to the Lions the past two seasons, falling 35-15 in last year’s opener at Scooba, 41-17 in 2011, and 42-36 in 2010. In 2008, PRCC trimmed EMCC 42-35 on the road in The River’s last appearance in the post-season playoffs.
            In last season’s contest, Pearl River amassed 422 yards of total offense. The Wildcats’ offensive total was 158 yards more than then-No.1-ranked East Mississippi’s 380, while generating 25 first downs to the Lions’ 15. But the Lions won the turnover battle 5-0 --- the deciding factor in the contest.
            The Lions cruised through their 2012 regular-season campaign at 8-1 and claimed its fifth straight North Division championship at 5-1. Their only regular-season setback was a dramatic 24-23 decision to Itawamba on the road, before ending the year with a stunning 47-46 loss to eventual state champ Copiah-Lincoln 47-in the opening round of the MACJC playoffs.
            Pearl River, on the other hand, bounced back from its opening loss to EMCC with a 44-29 victory over Mississippi Delta in Moorhead before losing two straight at home to Jones County (39-35) in the South Division opener and Coahoma (34-24) in the Tigers’ first and only win over the Wildcats.
            After disposing of division foe Southwest Mississippi 32-27 in Summit, Mississippi Gulf Coast took a 34-0 division shutout in Perkinston and Co-Lin spoiled The River’s Homecoming celebration with a 44-12 victory. PRCC was a 37-7 victory over East Central in Decatur before closing out its season with a 26-16 loss to Hinds at home.
 
The Pearl River-East Miss Rivalry
 
            THE PEARL RIVER-EAST MISSISSIPPI RIVALRY dates back 80 years to 1933 with the Wildcats holding a 28-15 (two ties) W-L advantage over the Lions.
            In the first 28 years of the series, EMCC managed only three wins to PRCC’s 17, while both stalemates were recorded during that span --- 6-6 (1947) and 13-13 (1957).
            Legendary Wildcat head coach Dobie Holden was  10-4-1 against East Mississippi from 1948 through 1966, while his successor, John Rusell, was 2-1 from 1967 through 1973. J.C. Arban was 3-2 from 1975 through 1984, while Mike Nelson, head coach from 1985 through 1989, lost his only match up with the Lions 25-24 in his inaugural season.
            Willie Coates led the River program from 1990 through 1994 and went 2-0 against East Mississippi, while his successor, the late Keith Daniels, was 1-3 from 1995 through 2000. Daniels died from a brain hemorrhage five games into the 2000 season.
            Hatten was 2-3 from 2002 through 2012.
 
Other Season Openers This Week
 
            OTHER SEASON OPENERS AROUND THE state (all Thursday games) include Coahoma at No. 1-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast, Northeast Mississippi at Copiah-Lincoln, East Central at Itawamba, Hinds at Mississippi Delta, Jones County at Holmes, Southwest Mississippi at Northwest Mississippi.
 
Watch, Listen To The Wildcats
 
            ALL 2013 PEARL RIVER FOOTBALL GAMES will be broadcast live over radio stations WFFF-FM (97.6) in Columbia, WFMM-FM (97.2) in Hatteisburg, and WRJW-AM (1380) in Picayune. In addition, fans can listen to the PRCC broadcasts by tuning in to an in-stadium radio signal for both home and away games. The signal ranges from 88.1 to 90.0 on any FM radio dial. All the aforementioned radio stations will broadcast all the Wildcats’ nine regular season  games and any possible post-season contests. In addition, River fans can watch or listen to all the games on the world wide web by accessing the Pearl River website at www.prcc.edu (follow on-screen instructions). Play-by-play announcer Jason Baker returns for his 11th season behind the microphone and is joined by color commentator Clay Sweet for the 10th straight years. Jeff Lossett returns as sideline reporter after a one-year hiatus. The broadcasts are produced by the Pearl River Community College Public Relations & Sports Information Department.

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