Forty-Five years ago this month, one of the most talked about and remembered prep football games in the history of the “Southern Six” took place in Biloxi at legendary Yankie Stadium.
For many years before the implementation of the state-wide prep football playoff system in the state of Mississippi in the early 1980s, the only postseason contests that most teams could strive for was to play well enough to be picked to play in one of a multitude of bowl games spread throughout the Magnolia State.
And the Granddaddy of them all took place on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi in the form of the prestigious Shrimp Bowl Classic.
“The Shrimp Bowl Classic was the premier high school postseason football game on the Coast because of its tradition and history,” John Bialas, a former sports writer at The Sun Herald who covered that game and now is the Assistant Sports Editor for 228Sports, said recently. “It featured many intriguing matchups, including that D’Ibervile vs. Ocean Springs in 1978. There were also many things associated with the game, such as the crowning of the Shrimp Bowl queen. and the thick and glossy program with rosters, pictures and ads that added to the pageantry of the event including a parade. It was a privilege to attend the games as a young fan in the 1960s and then to cover the games as a sportswriter for the Herald in the 1970s and 1980s.”
So, at the end of the 1978 season, on Friday night Nov., 17th just six days before Thanksgiving, all eyes and thousands of fans converged on that venue located on Lee Street for what has long been determined to be perhaps the greatest Shrimp Bowl ever played. It marked the first time in 24 years, since 1954, that the Shrimp Bowl Committee broke tradition and went outside of the prestigious Big Eight Conference and instead chose two teams in smaller conferences for the contest.
The contest pitted a pair of unbeaten local neighbors both standing 10-0 in Gulf Coast Conference champion Ocean Springs and Pascagoula River Conference champion D’Iberville.
That contest is also considered to be one of the best games ever played in South Mississippi. D’Iberville won 13-12, as the Warriors completed the first of back-to-back unbeaten seasons. D’Iberville’s Donald Ray Williams booted a 20-yard field goal with 59 seconds left for the winning points before an estimated crowd of 10,000 fans.
The game not only featured a pair of legendary head coaches in D’Iberville’s Buddy Singleton and Ocean Springs’ Hugh Pepper, but two of the top quarterbacks ever to play in the prep ranks in South Mississippi to date at that time as well. The Warriors were led by QB Reggie Collier, who passed for 1,006 yards and rushed for 378 yards in leading DHS into the Shrimp Bowl, and OSHS by quarterback Eddie Hornback who ran for 1,004 yards and passed for 881 yards during the regular season.
Williams’ winning kick was set up for the most part by a 35-yard scamper just plays before by DHS running back Dion Keel that moved the ball from the Warrior 29-yard line to the Greyhound 36.
Hornback had given OSHS a short-lived 10-12 lead earlier in the fourth period on a 1-yard quarterback keeper, but he was then thrown for a loss on a try for the two-point conversion.
Hornback also had the only other score in the game for OSHS, which came on a nifty 36-yard scoring scamper early in the second stanza.
Williams’ first successful field goal, from 22 yards out in the first frame, was the only points in the game for the Warriors until Collier hit Jimmy Lawrence on a 33-yard scoring strike in the third period to put the Warriors up 10-6 at that point setting the stage for the climactic fourth period.
“It was a match-up of marquee quarterbacks for sure,” Mike Wixon, a 228Sports Sports Writer who was the Sports Editor at The Mississippi Press in Pascagoula back in 1978 said. Wixon, like Bialas, covered the game for his newspaper.
“Those two players were without a doubt two of the top quarterbacks to come out of the prep football ranks in South Mississippi in the 1970’s so that game was really considered a showcase for Collier and Hornback.”
Collier went on to star at the University of Southern Mississippi, while Hornback signed with Notre Dame and later played defensive end for Mississippi State.
The legendary Frank “Yankie” Barhanovich helped start the Shrimp Bowl and served as the games Chairman for many years. The Knights of Columbus Council 1244 in Biloxi sponsored the Shrimp Bowl for the benefit of the Biloxi Doll and Toy Fund for underprivileged children and the St. Vincent DePaul Society, but it also produced some legendary prep football encounters over quite a few decades as well.
The first game was on the same day that the Japanese launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, the event that propelled the United States into World War II. The Bay St. Louis KC’s defeated the Biloxi KC’s 12-0 in that initial contest, and it ran as a postseason classic through 1993. The first two games were played featuring “Independent” football clubs along the Mississippi Gulf Coast before the game switched formats
to feature prep football teams from not just Mississippi but all over the South for the next five decades.
It is historically considered even today as one of the oldest and most prestigious high school football bowl games ever in the nation.
Over the years, teams from Texas, Florida, all parts of Louisiana and of course, Mississippi competed in the game. The game reached its pinnacle around that time in the 1950s and 60s, but the 1970s is remembered for the most part these days as the Golden Age of the contest.
And the 1978 game is still considered perhaps the best ever.