Ten years ago, just like they’ll do Friday night, the Picayune Maroon Tide traveled to Jones County to play in the South State championship game with a berth to the state finals on the line.
And that trip, a decade ago, was yet another step on the path to Picayune’s third-ever state football championship.
Not only did then veteran head coach Dodd Lee’s squad survive a 35-28 thriller over home-standing Laurel “Between the Bricks” at Watkins Stadium, but the win propelled Picayune into the Class 5A state championship game in Jackson at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium the next week where the Maroon Tide marched to its second state championship in three seasons under Lee with a heart-stopping 42-35 comeback win over undefeated Oxford.
“This is sweet, so sweet,” Lee told this Sports Writer in the midst of a jubilant celebration after that state title win 10 years ago. “I wish everyone could feel like this just once, and we’ve got the feeling twice in three years.”
Picayune is currently chasing its fifth state title in the past decade, with the first two crowns coming under Lee in 2011 and ten years ago this year.
In that 2013 campaign, Picayune is still believed to be the only team in Mississippi High School history to give up more than 6o points in a game and still take the state title. Homestanding Petal squeaked past the Maroon Tide 61-58 to open the 2013 season.
But Lee’s troops responded by winning eight out of nine games to close out the regular season, scoring more than 40 points in all eight of those wins.
Picayune continued that offensive magic with a 48-14 win over West Jones to open the state playoffs at home, before embarking on a trip to Waynesboro and and date with Wayne County in the second round.
At that point, the Maroon Tide was winless in Waynesboro at 0-5 all-time including three excruciating losses in the postseason.
But all that would change. Picayune slapped the War Eagles silly in the first half in an amazing and almost unbelievable display of dominance, jumping out to a commanding 31-0 halftime lead and holding on for an impressive 31-14 win to move on to the South State finals against Laurel.
After getting past the Golden Tornadoes, the stage was set for a Saturday night match-up with Oxford in what turned out to be played in bone-jarring winter weather for all the marbles.
All hope looked lost for Picayune in what seemed to be a destiny year for the unbeaten Oxford Chargers, as the Maroon Tide trailed 35-21 with just over seven minutes to play. But a furious Picayune rally netted touchdowns on three straight possessions to close out the contest, and the
Maroon Tide escaped with a 42-35 win for what at that time was their third state title in school history.
With the game knotted at 35-35, tailback Kardarrius Cross sprinted 66 yards untouched on a speed sweep to the sidelines with just under three minutes to play to seal the win for Picayune. Jackson Samples was perfect on his sixth extra-point try of the night, and the comeback was complete.
“We just put that in this week,” Cross told this Sports Writer after the game. “I was quick enough to get around the edge. I just got in the seam, and started running.”
Preston Dedeaux ran 31 times for 192 yards and three touchdowns to pace Picayune, while Cross totaled 94 yards on six carries and DeAndre Anderson added 16 carries for 68 yards.
“That was unbelievable, what a ball game,” Lee added. “I’ve never been involved in something like this. We were a bit down and some folks thought we were out of it. But our kids won’t quit. They have so much character and heart. They never quit and fought back like champions do, and they are champions.”
Both Dedeaux and Anderson eclipsed milestones in the state title game, as Dedeaux cracked the magical 2,000-yard rushing mark and Anderson broke the 1,000-yard barrier as well.
Dedeaux finished the season with 2,043 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns, while Anderson ran for 1,050 yards this season. Meanwhile, Cross and wingback Daveon Greene combined to run for over 1,100 yards on the season as well.
Lee retired at Picayune after the 2019 season when his team went 14-1 and lost in the state championship game in his 4th year at the helm of his alma mater.
He left the game with a 223-71 career mark at Picayune and is 265-102 overall in a career that includes stops as the head coach at East Central and Bay High as well.