River-Perk rivalry hits gridiron for the 87th time on Thursday

            POPLARVILLE — One of the most-heralded rivalries in the history of junior college football hits the gridiron for the 87th time here Thursday when Pearl River’s Wildcats host the 10th-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast Bulldogs for a 7 p.m. MACJC South Division showdown in Dobie Holden Stadium.
            Both teams enter the contest off victories. PRCC, 3-2 overall and 1-1 in division play, smacked division rival Southwest Mississippi 38-14 last week in Poplarville; while MGCCC, 4-1 and 1-1, defeated Northeast Mississippi 28-13 in Booneville in the MACJC’s only intra-divisional match up last week.
            Last Thursday’s Bulldog victory followed on the coattail of week four’s 52-42 division setback to now-third-ranked Jones County in Perkinson. MGCCC had held on to the NJCAA’s No. 1 ranking since the preseason balloting was released, but plummetted to No. 10 following its 10-point defeat.
            First-year Wildcat head coach William Jones knows the Wildcat-Bulldog rivalry all too well, as he served as The River’s defensive coordinator from 2001 through 2007 before splitting for East Mississippi in Scooba where he was the Lions’ DC from 2008 through last season.
            “Without a doubt, this is our biggest rival,” Jones said of 10-year head coach Steve Campbell’s Bulldog squad. “Year in and year out, Gulf Coast is a premier program in the state and nation and this season is no exception. I know for a fact the Bulldogs will be ready to play...as coaches, our jobs here is to get the Wildcats ready to play.
            “We’re up for the task.”
            Pearl River opened its season with a 49-6 non-division loss to now-second-ranked East Miss before following with a 30-14 non-division win over still-winless Mississippi Delta --- both in Poplarville. Then came Jones County’s 34-16 victory in Ellisville to open both team’s division schedules, while the Wildcats followed with a 21-7 non-division win over Coahoma in Clarksdale.
            Gulf Coast, on the other hand, opened its year with back-to-back non-division home wins over Coahoma and Holmes, 63-14 and 36-7, respectively, before dropping Hinds 41-34 in both team’s division openers in Raymond.
            A year ago, the Bulldogs blanked the Wildcats 34-0 in Perkinston, handing Pearl River its first shutout loss since it went scoreless twice during the 1996 season with 16-0 and 21-0 losses to Itawamba and Jones County, respectively.
            Statistically, Gulf Coast averages a second-best 425 yards of total offense per game in the MACJC to Pearl River’s sixth-best 322.2; while the Bulldogs are seventh in total defense with a 355-yard per-game average to the Wildcats’ sixth-best 286. MGCCC and PRCC rank first and fifth, respectively, in the league in rushing offense averaging 316.2 and 171.7 yards an outing.
            Gulf Coast averages 174.4 yards in passing offense per game to Pearl River’s 151.8.
            Both squads boast excellent running backs with the Bulldogs’ Antwan Wells leading the league in rushing with a 127.6-yard per-game average, while the Wildcats’ Darrell Robinson, who will be gunning for his fourth-straight 100-yard game against Gulf Coast, ranks fourth with an 88.2-yard average.
            Robinson, a freshman out of Noxubee County High, rushed for a season-high 148 yards (26 carries) in last week’s victory over Southwest Mississippi after compiling 103 and 111-yard efforts against Coahoma and Jones County, respectively.
            Wells also has three straight 100-yard games, rushing for 150 against Hinds, 104 against Jones County, and a whopping 205 last week against Northeast Mississippi.
            The Pearl River-Perk rivalry dates back to 1926 when the Wildcats took a 6-0 victory in the inaugural match-up. PRCC won 10 straight until Gulf Coast took a 26-6 win in 1936, then followed with a second win in 1939.
            In 1942, the two teams didn’t play after the season was shortened to only four games due to the country’s involvement in World War II, while the entire 1943 season was cancelled. Junior college football play resumed in 1944 and the two teams battled to a 7-7 deadlock, then the Bulldogs won 6-0 in 1945.
            A year later, legendary Wildcat head coach Dobie Holden arrived on the scene and turned in a 7-6 victory, then followed in 1947 with a 2-0 victory — the lowestscoring game in Pearl River history. Perk rebounded the following year with a narrow 20-19 decision, but the Wildcats answered the setback by reeling off 17 straight wins before the Bulldogs wiped out the Wildcats 33-0 in 1966 in Holden’s last season.
            Gulf Coast won three straight before Holden’s successor, John Russell, won 35-0 in 1969 and 12-7 in 1970. The Bulldogs were 37-21 winners in 1971, but the Wildcats            pulled off a thrilling 22-21 victory in 1972 and a 10-3 win in 1973 in Russell’s last season at PRCC.
            From 1974 through 1986, Gulf Coast won 11 of 13 under long-time head coach George Sekul, who is the winningest coach in junior college history, but PRCC rebounded with seven straight, including 1993’s 64-20 blowout, before the Bulldogs won 25-14 in 1994.
            Pearl River took a 21-14 win in 1995 in Keith Daniels’ first season at the Wildcat helm, but Perk won 27-23 in 1996. In 1997, the rivalry saw the high-scoring 61-55 battle that boasted numerous record-breaking individual and team efforts. Gulf Coast won three straight until 2001’s lopsided 52-9 victory in Poplarville.
            In that game, the Wildcats obviously celebrated Homecoming in grand style in the record-setting blowout over the Bulldogs behind then-head coach Scott Maxfield’s touted “air raid” offense which was tops in the nation in 2001. Pearl River finished that game with 661 total offensive yards (second highest in history) and a record 35 first downs behind the talents of All-American quarterback Charlie Reeve.
            Besides Reeve’s throwing antics in the 2001 game, PRCC boasted two 100-yard rushers in Kris Cannon and Kiel Angry. Cannon amassed 182 yards of total offense against the Bulldogs, including a career-high 122 yards on the ground. Angry finished the afternoon with 109 yards.
            The Wildcats took a muddy, come-from-behind 42-41 victory in Perkinston in 2002; then bounced back with a 38-0 blowout in Poplarville in 2003’s state championship season.
            The Bulldogs won a high-scoring 55-47 regular-season thriller in 2005; snapping a record 23-game winning streak by then-defending NJCAA national champion PRCC. But the Wildcats avenged the setback a month later with a hardfought 25-19 victory in the MACJC title bout for the state championship.
            In 2006, a standing-room-only crowd estimated at 8,000-plus packed Holden Stadium in a battle between the rivals ranked first (PRCC) and third (MGCCC) in the NJCAA with the Wildcats taking a 36-22 victory. In 2007, Gulf Coast took a hard-fought 24-17 win over The River amidst the muck and mud of A.L. May Stadium in Perkinston in both squads’ South Division openers, while the Bulldogs used a late touchdown to trim the Wildcats 10-3 in Poplarville in 2008’s regular-season match up.
            The two teams saw a rematch in the MACJC state championship game with the Bulldogs prevailing 52-7, marking the worst defeat in River football history.
            In 2009, MGCCC won 38-28 in Perkinston, amassing an incredible 548 yards of total offense behind the running talents of Vic Ballard — now a Mississippi State University standout — who finished the night with 250 yards on 32 carries.
            MGCCC won 38-28 in 2010 in Perkinston, amassing an incredible 548 yards of total offense behind the running talents of Vic Ballard — now with the Indianapolis Colts — who finished the night with 250 yards on 32 carries.
            In 2011, the then-defending state champ Bulldogs utilized its touted “jumbo package” to push Reggie Matthews one yard into the end zone to grab the lead for good at 17-10 early in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats fought back valiantly only to see Jonathan Duncan’s knee hit the turf at the one-foot-line after a 48-yard reception from German on the very last play of the game.
            Pearl River leads the series with an impressive 54-32-1 mark and has won or shared an unprecedented 19 MACJC titles, while Gulf Coast has won or shared 13.
            The Bulldogs have won four national championships in 1970, 1982, and 1984 under Sekul and 2007’s co-title with Butler (Kan.) under Campbell. PRCC has won national titles in 1961 and 2004 when the Wildcats took a 52-26 regular-season victory over the Bulldogs in Poplarville.
            Pearl River won or shared four straight state titles from 1924 through 1928. In 1928, PRCC shared the championship with Sunflower (now Mississippi Delta) and now-defunct Clarke. Pearl River won three straight championships from 1958 through 1961 and were co-champs with Northwest Mississippi in 1960. Hinds won four straight titles from 1994 through 1997, while Northwest Mississippi won four over a span of six years from 1987 through 1992.
            The MACJC holds on to four spots in the top 10 of the NJCAA’s latest poll with East Mississippi at No. 2, Jones County No. 3, Itawamba No. 4, Copiah-Lincoln No. 9, and Mississippi Gulf Coast No. 10. MGCCC held on to the top ranking for the first three weeks of the season before plummeting to 10th after suffering a 52-42 setback to JCJC on Sept. 10.
            East Miss moved up from third to second behind undefeated Georgia Military (6-0), a 48-38 winner over previously second-ranked Iowa Western last week; while Jones moved from ninth to third with its come-from-behind 50-47 South Division victory over previously fourth-ranked Co-Lin. Last week’s top-ranked team, Navarro (Tex.) suffered a lopsided 35-7 setback to Trinity Valley (Tex.) and fell to No. 8. No. 5 Nassau (N.Y.) and No. 6 Tyler (Tex.) round out the Top 10.
            Other than the PRCC-SMCC match up, three other games were played on Thursday with Hinds (3-2, 1-2) crushing winless East Central (0-5, 0-3) 48-14 in Raymond in a South Division contest, while in the North, Holmes (1-4, 1-2) demolished winless Mississippi Delta (0-5, 0-3) 58-6 in Moorhead for its first victory of 2013. Tenth-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast (4-1, 1-1) was a 28-14 winner over Northeast Mississippi (2-3, 2-0) in Booneville in the MACJC’s only intra-divisional match up of the week. On Saturday, ninth-ranked and reigning MACJC champion Copiah-Lincoln (4-1, 2-1) was nipped by third-ranked Jones County (5-0, 3-0) a South Division battle in Ellisville, while in the North, winless Coahoma (0-5, 0-2) was demolished by second-ranked East Mississippi (5-0, 2-0) 90-7 in Scooba for the Lions’ homecoming and Northwest Mississippi (1-4, 0-2) fell to fourth-ranked Itawamba (5-0, 3-0) in Fulton for the Indians’ homecoming.
            Three other Thursday games are set for this week, while three Homecoming contests are set for Saturday. The only Thursday South Division game is Jones County at East Central in Decatur, while the East Mississippi at Holmes match up is the only North contest. Copiah-Lincoln visits Itawamba Thursday in the week’s only intra-divisional game of the week. Saturday’s Homecoming games include one South match up with Southwest Mississippi hosting Hinds in Summit, while in the North, Northeast Mississippi hosts Coahoma in Booneville and Northwest Mississippi hosts Mississippi Delta in Senatobia.
            All Pearl River games are broadcast live on WFMM-FM (97.3) in Hattiesburg, WFFF-FM (96.7) in Columbia, and WRJW-AM (1320) in Picayune. Play-by-play announcer Jason Baker, amidst his 14th season with the Wildcats, 12-year color commentator Clay Sweet, and sideline reporter Jeff Lossett will handle the broadcast. Air time for Thursday’s broadcast is 6:30 p.m. You may also watch (via live stream) and listen to the Wildcats over the internet by logging on to www.prcc.edu. Click on the icon at the bottom left of the screen, and follow the instructions.