For the first time in school history, the Gautier football team is headed back to the Class 5A South State championship game in back-to-back seasons.
The Gators went on the road Friday night and slipped past home-standing Florence 36-34 in the second round of the state playoffs. The win sends Gautier, under the direction of seventh-year head coach Marc High, back to “Between the Bricks” in Laurel next week with a trip to the Class 5A state championship game on the line.
The Gators move to 8-4 overall on the year, while the Eagles finish the season at 8-5.
“I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance to get back to this point with as many kids as we lost from last year,” High said. “But the players and the coaches and everyone involved in this program every day believed that we could, and we proved it on the field.”
Gautier led 36-13 to begin the fourth and final quarter before a furious fourth frame Florence rally pulled the Eagles within the final two point margin with around two minutes to play.
But in a key moment of the game, Gator quarterback Trey Irving converted a third and long situation with about a minute left and GHS was able to go into victory formation and run out the lock to secure the win.
“We had some stuff happen there late that we probably shouldn’t have let happen,” High added. “But it’s just a testamament to these kids and coaches that we hung on and advanced.”
Irving and Solomon Baggett each accounted for two touchdowns apiece in the first half to put Gautier up at halftime 29-13. The tailback Baggett ran for two scores and Irving ran for one touchdown and also hit his favorite receiver Kelvin Beavers on a scoring strike for the other.
After a scoreless third period, Irving found beavers again for another touchdown toss to make it 36-13 with almost a full quarter to play.
After the Gators thwarted the attempted comeback by the Eagles, the GHS players celebrated and made program history at the same time.
“I’m very proud of this team, a lot of people didn’t give us much of a chance at the beginning of the year,” High concluded.
The Gators traveled to Laurel for the first time ever just three weeks ago, and the Golden Tornadoes pulled out a 48-30 win to take the Region 4-5A championship.