LUCEDALE — Going into Friday night’s big Region 4-6A showdown between Picayune and George County, the Rebels hadn’t found a way to beat the Maroon Tide in over twenty years.
Powerful Picayune made sure that streak didn’t end.
Utilizing their third-string tailback Niquis Ratcliff, the back-to-back state champions overcame a seven-point halftime deficit with 20 unanswered points in a span between the third and fourth quarters, and pulled out a 34-21 win at Gill-Martin Stadium.
The win pushes Picayune to 7-2 overall and a perfect 4-0 in league play, and the win gives the Region 4-6A title to Picayune as well. George County drops to 7-3 overall and 3-1 in the region race.
That third-string tailback Ratcliff ran roughshod over the helpless Rebel defense as he collected over 300 yards rushing and registered three of Picayune’s five touchdowns in his first start for the Maroon Tide.
“It was a tail of two halves that’s for sure,” Picayune fourth year head coach Cody Stogner said. “The first half we didn’t play Picayune football, but the second half we did. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids.”
Trailing 21-14 entering the third frame, Ratcliff quickly went to work to erase that deficit as he capped off Picayune’s opening drive of the second half with a 26-yard scoring scamper to tie things up.
Then, with Picayune’s defense shutting down George County’s offense, Maroon Tide fullback Jeremiah Contee put his team ahead at 28-21 with a 22-yard run early in the fourth period.
The Maroon Tide secured the win with a 29-yard scoring run by linebacker Amarion Tyson just minutes later to result in the final count.
It marked the fifth straight win for Picayune over GCHS in this series. The Rebels haven’t beaten Picayune since 2002.
After a scoreless first quarter, things exploded in the second stanza.
Picayune used a pair of scoring runs from Ratcliff to take a 14-0 lead, as he registered touchdown runs from 44 and two yards out.
But the Rebels rebounded. Deuce Knight struck first on a 77-yard scoring scamper, and then he hit Marlon Odom on a 33-yard scoring strike to knot the game up at 14-14 with just over :30 seconds to go before intermission.
But that wasn’t the end of the first half. The Maroon Tide quickly moved down the field and moved into field goal range, but on the last play of the second quarter Odom blocked a field goal attempt and Gage Reeves returned it 76 yards for a go-ahead touchdown as the horn sounded.
But the home teams’ hopes of a first win over perennial power Picayune since 2001 went up in smoke in the second half, thanks to a Maroon Tide running game that produced almost 450 yards on the ground in the win. Ratcliff finished with 305 yards rushing on 40 attempts.
And that performance came despite the absence of senior Dandy Dozen tailback Chris Davis and his backup Darrell Smith due to injuries.
“What can you say about Niquis Ratcliff?” Stogner added. “What a warrior. We basically ran three different plays in the second half and that was the difference. He stepped up to the challenge and he knew what we expected of him tonight. And he delivered.”
Picayune returns home with an opening round home game in the Class 6A South State playoffs already clinched to wrap up the regular season hosting Hancock Thursday night. Meanwhile, GCHS heads to War Memorial Stadium in Pascagoula for a big meeting with the Panthers with many playoff implications on the line.