MOSS POINT — There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the football team at Moss Point High was considered a dynasty in the state of Mississippi.
In fact, the Tigers that called Dantzler Stadium home were considered South Panola basically before the Tigers in Batesville became that.
Moss Point won five state titles in an 18-year span and played for another the next year.
And it all began 40 years ago this week when legendary head coach Billy Wayne Miller and his team kicked off the 1983 season with a 28-0 thumping of Hattiesburg at home.
Coming into that 1983 campaign, the football team at Moss Point High was experiencing a rarity. The Tigers were coming off an unusual losing season in 1982, and even after winning the first two games of the 1983 campaign, Miller’s team was still struggling at 2-3 midway through the regular season.
What Moss Point would experience the rest of the year, however, was another rarity: its first state championship. The Tigers, after consecutive losses to Picayune, Biloxi, and Gulfport left them one game under .500, went on to reel off nine straight wins and capture the Class AA state crown.
It was the first state championship for Moss Point and Miller, and the Tigers went on to also take home the gold football in 1991, 1996, 1997, and 2000 and then lost in the title tilt in 2001.
The first one, though, may have been the most unexpected.
The Tigers, who finished 11-3, blended an effective offense with a stifling defense to make their title run. Quarterback Chris Osgood paved the way on offense, while nose guard Chris Clausell was a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive side of the ball.
Osgood, who later started at both Ole Miss and Texas A&M, threw for almost 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also ran for 11 scores.
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Clausell, who was a seldom-used reserve his first two seasons with the Tigers, made his final season one to remember. He recorded 76 individual tackles, including 41 behind the line of scrimmage along with 17 sacks, and was named the Mississippi high school player of the year. Clausell signed with Mississippi State but left school after just one season.
“He was a great talent. There were times when teams would try and block him with three or even four players and he’d still make the tackle,” then MPHS defensive line coach Jackie McCorvey said in an interview for a story about the 20th anniversary of the 1983 team. McCorvey passed away in 2014.
The Tigers actually didn’t secure a playoff berth until they beat archrival Pascagoula 14-8 in the last regular-season game. But the postseason was a magical time.
Moss Point began with a 24-14 win over Picayune, which had been a thorn in the Tigers’ paw. The Maroon Tide, which had never beaten Moss Point until 1979, had won five games in a row over the Tigers but Moss Point snapped that losing streak on the way to the title tilt.
Meridian, the top-ranked team in the state, was the next victim as Moss Point took a 14-10 win. It marked the second time that season that MPHS knocked off the perennial state power Wildcats also winning 14-7 at historic Ray Stadium in Meridian in week nine of the regular season.
The South State title game against Warren Central was moved to M.M. Roberts Stadium on the Southern Miss campus. Osgood broke open a close game with a fourth-down, fourth-quarter long touchdown pass of 44 yards to tight end Terry Austin as the Tigers pulled out a 20-12 win. The Tigers sealed the win when Clausell’s defensive linemate Mitch Barlow stripped the ball away from the Viking quarterback and lumbered toward the goal line before dishing it off to linebacker Gary Lewis to complete a 66-yard scoop and score.
The Tigers traveled to Jackson to meet Starkville at Hughes Field in their first-ever state championship appearance. The contest was a microcosm of Moss Point’s season, as Osgood scored on a nifty run and Clausell and his defensive mates made the lone score stand up in a 6-0 Tiger win. Linebacker Virgil Hobson had a big game in Jackson that night for the Tigers as well.
The legendary Miller, one of the most influential men ever in the prep football circles in the state of Mississippi, would later call the game his most memorable ever in his 20 seasons at the helm of the Tigers. He died of a heart attack in the summer of 1991.
“We had established a very good program, but we’d never been able to get the ring,” Miller said during an interview with the author of this story several months before he died. “We knew we wouldn’t get the respect we deserved until we won the big one.”
Making the season even more special for Miller was that his middle son, Mike, was a standout receiver on the team. He hauled in nine of Osgood’s scoring passes.
The younger Miller was one of at least 15 members of the 1983 team who went on to sign a football scholarship with a senior college.
The elder Miller coached the Tigers for 20 years and left an indelible mark on the world of sports not just locally, but statewide as well. Miller died at his Moss Point home at the age of 50 early on a Sunday morning with his wife Mary at his side of a massive heart attack. He was gearing up for the 1991 season when he passed away after falling ill while cutting the grass on the Moss Point baseball field the day before. Miller coached the Tigers to 118 victories in 20 seasons, winning the Class AA state championship in 1983.
Miller spent much of his youth in California, but moved with his family to Carriere during high school and later played at Pearl River Junior College and Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama). After completing his master’s degree at Southern Miss, he coached two years at Pearl River Central and four at Stone County, then spent two seasons as an assistant at Pascagoula before landing the Moss Point job just as the school integrated in 1971. Miller also was well respected at the state level. He was instrumental in the formation of a statewide playoff system beginning in 1981, and was the first person to serve simultaneously as president of both the Mississippi Association of Coaches and the executive board of the Mississippi High School Activities Association.