Long Beach Head Football Coach Ryan Ross addresses team after 28-7 loss to the Pearl River Central Bearcats on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 at Lumpkin Magee Stadium. (Hunter Dawkins/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

by Hunter Dawkins, Publisher

In the 96th year for the Long Beach High School Bearcats football team, there is an attempt to bring more to the table with only having 5 wins in the last three years.

“It’s not really a rebuilding year; Hunter, it’s more like a rebooting year,” expressed second year Long Beach High School Head Football Coach Ryan Ross entering his 25th year in coaching football to The Gazebo Gazette.  “The district we’ve been in (Region 4-5A) has been tough for anybody, as nobody wants to play the schedule we’ve had.”

Undoubtedly, Ross was correct with the former district including teams such as Picayune, Hattiesburg, Wayne County and Pascagoula.  Each one of these squads have either won the 5A State Championship or been runner-up.  Teams such as East Central, Gautier and Pearl River never provided easy competition.

“It’s the hand we’ve been dealt and it did change a little this year, but there is some football tradition schools,” said Ross.  “Overall, we’re making changes to do the right thing, we’ve got a plan although it doesn’t happen overnight.  Hopefully, we’ll be competitive each week.”

This is Ross’ 11th year on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, previously coaching in Ocean Springs since 2011 where he compiled a 61-44 record.  Although Ross had six playoff appearances and an 11 win season, he only won a single district title in the competitive 4-6A district along with a playoff victory.

Long Beach has not had a playoff appearance since 2011 and have only had one winning season in the last decade (2017).

“We only have nine seniors in the whole program and maybe five have actually played before, but we have a lot of ninth and tenth graders that played last year,” commented Ross.  “We’re trying to slow the bleeding down, which we did last year as it was more of a control; run the clock, and Wing T or Veer.  This year it will be a little spread, faster, and try to create some explosiveness from our players.”

In his first year, the Long Beach defense under Ross only allowed 208 points, which was the lowest amount in over a decade and the second lowest in 15 years.  The only games where the Bearcats allowed more than 30 points was against Picayune, Hattiesburg, and Pascagoula.  Two of the games were from forfeit because of the global pandemic (COVID-19) inside the school.

“For years, we’ve always had an odd-front defense with a 3-4 look; but with coaching moves and having two  defensive minds of Horace Fortenberry and Benji Foreman, an even four man front looks better.”

After Pass Christian canceled the 5th Annual Oyster Bowl this week due to the contact spread of COVID-19 through school, the Bearcats found an opening with Hancock High School for Friday, August 27 at Brett Favre Field.  This will be the first game of the year for Long Beach after they played in a scrimmage against the St. Martin Yellow Jackets last Friday in Latimer.

The Bearcats will play all three Hancock County teams (Hancock, St. Stanislaus, Bay) in their opening three contests.

Region 4-5A is new this year with Hattiesburg, Wayne County, and Pascagoula dropping out.  The Bearcats main rival; the West Harrison Hurricanes, return after spending two unsuccessful years in 6A classification.

“The Wolf River Classic” between the schools has not been a fair rivalry.  With 12 contests played, the Bearcats have won 11, while the Hurricanes were victorious in 2013.

Additionally, Vancleave and George County joined Region 4-5A this year with deep playoff history.

One thing to watch early for the Long Beach Bearcats is under center.  Ross explained a healthy competition between veteran Charlie Starita and big, young gun Colt Busby has been good for the team.  Other names to be looking for are Amaru Jones and Avery Berry.

Despite having only one district championship in 2005 and a 10 win season in 2010, the Long Beach Bearcats are looking to show their “rebooting” form on the field in 2021.