GULFPORT — The top-two ranked teams on the Mississippi Coast squared off Friday at historic Milner Stadium and the matchup definitely lived up to the billing.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, No. 1 ranked Picayune stormed back to take a 28-21 lead and held the No. 2 Admirals on a fourth-and-goal from the Tide 8 in the final seconds to secure a hard-fought win before a capacity crowd.
“Our defense is the heart and soul of our team,” said Picayune head coach Cody Stogner. “Week-in and week-out we lean on them. They stepped up in the second half and made some big plays for us.”
That certainly wasn’t the case in the first half as it appeared Gulfport was going to blow the Tide out on this homecoming night.
Gulfport took the opening drive and marched 61 yards in 6 plays to take the lead on quarterback Nico Williams’ 22-yard TD toss to Gavin Brown with 9:47 to play in the first quarter.
In the final minute of the quarter, Dakoreyon Payton broke free for a 61-yard score to give the Admirals a 14-0 lead.
After Gulfport forced another Picayune punt, Williams found a streaking Cameron Joseph in the slot for a 38-yard scoring strike on the first play from scrimmage. The point after made it 21-0 with 5:11 to play in the second quarter.
Picayune finally got on the board with 1:02 to play before the half when quarterback Brady Robertson found Kyler King on a 12-yard TD toss. Jamal Simmons added the point after.
“I felt like nothing was going right for us in the beginning of the game,” said Stogner. “I think we were pressing too much to make things go right. We cleaned up some assignments at half time and made some adjustments.”
Picayune’s defense shutout the Admirals in the second half, while the offense – playing without all-state running back Chris Davis – relied on the legs of Darrell Smith. Davis injured his collarbone on the first Picayune possession. Smith, who finished the night with 186 rushing yards on 25 carries, scored from 7 yards out with 2:56 to play in the third quarter to make it a 21-14 game.
The junior running back tied the game with 5:48 to play in the game on a 34-yard run.
Gulfport was driving with 2:40 to play when Picayune’s Niquis Ratcliff stepped in front of a Williams pass and raced 45 yards for the scored to put the Maroon Tide on top.
On the ensuing drive, Williams drove the Admirals down the field 57 yards with his arm and legs to the Picayune 8. On first and goal, Williams took three shots into the endzone, but the Admirals couldn’t connect. On fourth-and-goal, Picayune blitzed off the left side and Amarion Tyson sacked Williams with ten seconds to play.
Williams finished the night 13-of-25 for 187 yards and the interception. He also lead the Admirals (2-2) on the ground with 77 yards on 16 carries.
“Give Gulfport credit,” said Stogner. “They have a great team and will be playing deep into November.
“A lot of the guys we have have been in big games like this for us in the past and I think that was an advantage for us,” added Stogner. “I’m so proud of these guys and the effort they gave.”
Picayune (3-1) will host Ocean Springs Friday, while the Admirals will hit the road for the first time this season when they travel to Brandon.