In the latest historical start for the junior college football since World War II due to the global pandemic of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the arch-rival South Mississippi schools of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) Bulldogs and the Pearl River Community College (PRCC) Wildcats faced off at the Dobie Holden Stadium. Even though much of the depth left the defending national champion Bulldogs to four year schools, MGCCC beat the Wildcats 42-25 at PRCC in Poplarville.
Mississippi Gulf Coast running back Deondre House ran for a career-best 220 yards, and the Bulldogs piled up 649 yards in total offense on the way to a 42-25 win Thursday over archrival Pearl River.
Gulf Coast ran for 344 yards and held the Wildcats to only 53 on the ground in the third-latest season-opener in school history. The Bulldogs have won 17 straight, the third-longest winning streak in school history.
“It feels good because 1-0 is always a good start,” Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. “It’s not the situation that we thought we would get it in. Typically, Pearl River is a middle-of-the-season game as a division game. Coming out against these guys was tough. I’m proud of our kids.”
Gulf Coast has won nine of the last 10 games against PRCC dating back to 2011 and 12 of the last 14.
Pearl River, playing its first game under new coach Seth Smith, got off to a strong start Thursday against Gulf Coast as the Wildcats opened the scoring and forced three first-half turnovers.
“They fought hard and I’m proud of them but obviously there’s no moral victories. We didn’t want to come out here and get beat 42-25, but there were a lot of positives,” Smith said following his debut. “Like I told (the players), as long as we come back and we get better. If that team is the standard, we’re two scores away so it’s important for us to get better and make sure we compete our tails off next week.”
Pearl River came out of the gate firing, scoring on the first play from scrimmage. Sophomore quarterback Jakob Greer (Bay St. Louis; St. Stanislaus) motioned running back Chris Holifield Jr. into the slot and then hit behind the Bulldog secondary.
Holifield flashed his speed, out-running the defense for a 68-yard strike.
“That was a great pitch and catch,” PRCC offensive coordinator David Chatham said. “Our running back had a good matchup on their linebacker and he was able to run past him and score. That was big. I wish we could have built off that momentum a little more, but we’ll get better.”
The Wildcats kept the momentum on MGCCC’s next possession. Feeling pressure from the pass rush, the Bulldogs’ quarterback heaved a ball down the PRCC sideline that Ricco Moore (Moss Point; St. Martin) plucked out of the air.
PRCC (0-1) was unable to capitalize, however, and the Bulldogs scored 21 unanswered to close out the first quarter.
The Regulators, the nickname for the Bulldogs defense, held firm on a fourth-and-1 from their own 6-yard line to keep them off the board, and Short threw a pass to K.T. Hicks that he turned into a 67-yard touchdown for a 7-6 lead. Hicks came to Perk as a walk-on but was awarded a scholarship less than a week ago and earned the first chunk of it Thursday.
After an interception by Jadarrius Perkins, Jalen Bracey cashed in with a 42-yard touchdown from Short. Nicholson punctuated his first drive with a 6-yard rushing touchdown for a 21-6 first-quarter lead, and the Bulldogs took a 21-13 lead to halftime.
“We got some chunk runs in the second half,” Wright said. “I think Pearl River did a good job of stopping us early. I’m not sure all the reasons before we watch the film, but credit the offensive line with really picking up their play in the run game in the second half. It just felt different in the second half and were getting some momentum. Our backs are dynamic when they get in the open field.”
All House needed to score on his next carry – and the Bulldogs’ next play from scrimmage – was a hole from his offensive line and some nifty footwork down the field on a 90-yard touchdown.
“We started off kinda slow, not the way we expected to start, but we picked things up as the game went along,” he said. “There were a couple of plays that Coach had picked out for us, and we executed it. A big shout out to my O-line.”
That made it 35-13, and teams exchanged touchdowns over the next 23 minutes, with a 4-yard run by Cam Thomas (Fr., Picayune/Picayune) sandwiched between a pair of PRCC scores.
“There was no film (on Pearl River),” Wright said. “We got exactly what we thought out of a Coach Smith-coached team, great effort. They came a thousand miles in one offseason. They’ll give some guys fits this year.”
Pearl River was able to throw for 289 yards with several chunk plays. The Wildcats forced a handful of pass interference calls, too. The Bulldogs finished the night with 12 penalties for 122 yards.
Their concentration on stuffing the run also let them overcome losing the turnover battle 3-1.
“That first week is critical, especially this year,” Wright said. “Throwing everything at these guys so quickly (in the short camp). We definitely made a lot of mistakes.”
Gulf Coast plays at home for the first time in 2020 when Hinds visits on Oct. 8. Kickoff at A.L. May Memorial Stadium will be at 7 p.m. Tickets go on sale to the public on Monday at 12:01 a.m.
Gulf Coast has won nine of the last ten meetings, dating back to 2011 and 12 of the last 14 back to 2007.