By DOUG BARBER/228Sports
GULFPORT – Quarterback Nico Williams ran for three touchdowns and passed for another while Gulfport’s defense pitched a shutout in the Admirals’ 42-0 opening victory Friday in the Port City Bowl at Joseph W. Milner Stadium.
Williams, who played wide receiver during the 2022 season, sparkled in the Admirals romp. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 172 yards and rushed 12 times for 91 yards. He scored on runs of 2, 3 and 40 yards, and tossed a 48-yard TD pass to Bishop McGruder to open the second half.
Gulfport is now 1-0 while Gautier fell to 0-1. It was Blake Pennock’s first game as Gulfport’s head coach.
“I’m so proud of the way we played as a team,’’ Blake Pennock said. “It wasn’t the cleanest but for our first game and our first game as a program I couldn’t ask for more.
“I thought (Nico) threw the ball well down field. He had some huge third-down conversions early in the game. He ran the ball so effectively early. We started off quick with four straight touchdowns off drives.
“I thought Kyle McClendon played incredibly well on defense. Kadarrius Reed and Christian Hughes played well on defensive line. Both of our inside linebackers DaQuawn Payton and Landon Pettis pursued the quarterback so well. And you can’t stop their style of offense if you can’t stop their wide receivers – I was really proud of Prince Cottonham and Damon Felder who played well.’’
Gulfport opened the scoring when Gavin Brown scored from 1 yard out on Gulfport’s opening possession. Gulfport’s other score came on a 9-yard run by Dez Smith late in the third quarter.
Williams was named Port City Bowl Most Valuable Player.
“Last year I was strictly a wide receiver and I was backup quarterback,’’ the 6-foot-4 quarterback said. “Now this is the year. There were some nerves but there was a lot of excitement. After the first snap, I was calm, cool and collected. I was excited. We’ve got a lot of players who are good. We can throw the ball well and we can run the ball well.’’
Gautier lost starting quarterback Trey Irving after the second series of the game with what appeared to be a wrist injury. Kelvin Beavers replaced Irving and played the rest of the game at quarterback.
That duo, of course, was trying to fill the big shoes of Kaden Irving who set all kinds of Gautier records last season in leading the Gators to the Class 5A South State championship game.
McGruder caught five passes for Gulfport for 105 yards and one TD.
“For the first game I think we are moving in the right direction,’’ Pennock said. “We have to keep building from here.’’
Gulfport hosts Vancleave next Friday, while Gautier has its home opener hosting D’Iberville.