Wildcats 27-20 winners over Bears in South Division opener

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POPLARVILLE The 15th-ranked Pearl River Wildcats got all they could handle from scrappy Southwest Mississippi here Thursday, pulling out a hard-fought 27-20 MACJC South Division victory in the final two minutes of in the contest. All-American quarterback Melvin German of Ft. Myers, Fla., hit Seth Roberts of Tallahassee, Fla., with a 21-yard scoring pass in the end zone with 1:41 left for the hard-fought win in the division openers for both squads. PRCC improved to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in division play, while SMCC dropped to 1-2 and 0-1. Tenth-year Wildcat head coach Tim Hatten was pleased with the win, but not the performance of his team. It wasnt very pretty, but it a win and that what counts, he said. We made way too many mistakes on both sides of the ball, but when you can come out of a game with a win, particularly in our division, that saying something. Pearl River spotted Southwest seven points on the opening possession of the night when quarterback Vintavious Cooper engineered a five-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Cooper hit Donnell Dunigan with a nine-yard completion on the first snap, then Laderick Turner ran for 18 on two carries to the Wildcat 33 before Cooper ran it in on a keeper with 12:30 left in the first. Jake Saltalamacchia extra point was good to give the Bears a 7-0 lead. Cooper is a good player, Hatten said. He gave us all we could handle a year ago over at their place (a 35-21 PRCC win) and did it again this go around. Give them credit. Theyre a solid team and played hard. If it wasnt for their four turnovers (one fumble, three interceptions) it couldve been a different story for the Wildcats. PRCC went three and out on the ensuing possession, but Leon Carlton of Hoover, Ala., picked off Cooper on a second and 10 at the Bear 47 and it took the Wildcats only six plays to tie it up. The River moved to the 38 in three snaps, then German hit Javonte Wilson of Picayune High with a 16-yard pass before keeping for 15 to the seven. He then zipped a scoring throw to Jonathan Duncan of Petal High. Caleb Kergosein of St. Stanislaus College booted the PAT to knot things at 7-7 with 6:21 left in the opening period. Three series later, Saltalamacchia 27-yard unreturned punt from his 18 gave Pearl River possession at the SMCC 45 and it took the Wildcats only five plays to take the lead. German was three for three in the series, including two completions to Snoop Rollins of North Forrest High for a combined 28 yards. Cheeto Johnson of Forrest County AHS ran it in on a first and goal from the nine on the last play of the opening quarter. Kergosein extra point made it 14-7. Southwest answered with a 12-play, 53-yard drive to the PRCC seven on the first series of the second only to see the effort zilch via a pass interception in the end zone by Rashod Merritt of Lumberton High. German followed by converting a third and 13 with a 33-yard completion to his own 45 to Rickey Bradley of Oak Grove High, then found Roberts for 11 yards to the SMCC 44. After a five-yard offsides penalty, German was crushed on a minus-nine-yard scramble and fumbled the ball away. Three snaps later, Cooper fumbled and Ketrick Wolfe of Sumrall High recovered for the Wildcats. After an exchange of punts, the half ended with Pearl River at its own 14. PRCC opened the second half with a six-play, 59-yard drive to the SMCC three, but Kergosein was wide on his field goal attempt. German got the series rolling with back-to-back 19-yard and 36-yard completions to Duncan and Steve Simon of Columbia High, respectively, to push the Wildcats to the Bear seven before the drive stalled. Southwest answered with a seven-play drive to its own 33, but were forced into a punting situation before a Wildcat penalty kept the Bears alive. Six plays later, Cooper hit Bryan Cook with a 14-yard TD pass to make it 14-13 with 4:57 left in the third period.. Saltalamacchia extra point was no good. Pearl River followed with a 10-play, 58-yard drive to the SMCC five before German was picked off in the end zone. After Simon ran for 13 on first down, German went five of six over the next seven snaps for a combined 48 yards before the pick his third of the season. Steve McNair, Jr., of Oak Grove High immediately avenged the miscue on the Bears first ensuing play with a impressive leaping interception on a bomb at the his own 28. German then hit Jaquaa Peters of Columbia High with a 65-yard completion to the Southwest 17 on first down before Cheeto Johnson ran it in the rest of the way. Kergosein PAT was no good, but PRCC led 20-13 with 27 seconds left in the third period. Cooper followed with a seven-play, 71-yard scoring drive to tie it up once again. After Turner lost three yards on the final play of the period, Cooper kept for 14 on the first two snaps of the fourth before connecting with Dunigan for 19 to his own 41. Two plays later, it was Cooper-to-Dunigan again for 14 before Cooper kept for a 24-yard touchdown run. Saltalamacchia extra point knotted it up at 20-20 with 12 18 left in the game. Two series later, Bradley 35-yard punt from the end zone gave Southwest possession at the River 35 and three snaps and a five-yard Wildcat penalty later the Bears were sitting at the 20. A delay of game penalty moved things back to the 25 before Cooper was sacked for a minus-10 by E.J. Pearson of Forrest County AHS to set up a 50-yard Saltalamacchia field goal attempt that fell short. Starting at their own 20, the Wildcats answered with the seven-play, game-winning drive with German connecting with Roberts four times for a combined 66 yards, including the 21-yard clincher and an 18-yarder that converted a fourth and five at the visitors 39. Pacer Frierson of Picayune Memorial High booted the PAT for the game final point. Tyler Caldwell relieved Cooper at QB on the final possession of the contest and managed to drive the Bears to Wildcat 25 before time expired. The River wrapped the night with 463 yards of total offense (385 pass, 78 rush) with German connecting on 31 of 41 pass attempts (one interception). Cheeto Johnson led Wildcat rushers with 42 yards on seven carries, while Simon had 28 on four. Roberts, who managed only one catch for 11 yards in the first half, led all receivers in the game with 89 yards on seven receptions. Peters had two for 81, Duncan seven for 54, Simon three for 49, Bradley two for 48, Rollins four for 29, Cheeto Johnson three for 17, Wilson one for 16, and McNair one for two. The Bears finished the night with 324 total yards with 208 on the ground, including 104 by Turner and 95 by Cooper on 18 carries each. Dunigan led the way with 55 yards on four receptions, while Cooper and Caldwell combined for a 12-of-27 (three interceptions) passing night. Pearl River was penalized 10 times for 103 yards, while Southwest also drew 10 flags for 65. Bradley punted five times for a 38.5-yard average, while Saltalamacchia had five boots for 31.5.Elsewhere Around The MACJC In other Thursday night South Division action, 13th-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast (2-1, 1-0) downed Jones County 17-10 (2-1, 0-1) in Perkinston and Hinds (2-1, 1-0) demolished 20th-ranked Copiah-Lincoln (2-1, 0-1) 36-0 in Wesson. In the North, eighth-ranked East Mississippi (3-0, 1-0) squeaked past fourth-ranked Northwest Mississippi (2-1, 0-1) 45-42 in Senatobia, Northeast Mississippi (3-0, 1-0) defeated Mississippi Delta (0-3, 0-1) 16-3 in Moorhead, and Holmes (1-2, 1-0) trimmed Coahoma (0-3, 0-1) 15-14 in Goodman. East Central (1-2) defeated winless Itawamba (0-3) 24-17 in Fulton in the only non-division game of the week.Next Week In The MACJC Next Thursday in the MACJC, Mississippi Delta hosts Hinds in Moorhead for its homecoming and the only non-division match up of the week. In the South on Thursday, East Central hosts Pearl River in Decatur and Southwest hosts Gulf Coast in Summit; while Jones County hosts Co-Lin in Ellisville on Saturday. In the North on Thursday, Coahoma hosts Northwest in Clarksdale, East Mississippi hosts Itawamba in Scooba, and Northeast hosts Holmes in Booneville.