LEAKESVILLE — Poplarville head coach Jay Beech was candid about his team’s performance Friday night in its regular-season finale.
The Hornets, who came into this week with the No. 1 seed in Region 8-4A already in hand, came up short against an inspired Greene County team that pulled out a 29-28 upset at Johnny Ainsworth Field.
“We had a lackadaisical week of practice and it showed tonight,” Beech said. “You never want to lose a game, but maybe this is the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Moss Point head coach John Feaster, without having seen a play of practice or Friday nights game, would have to agree.
Poplarville (7-3 overall, 3-1 region) will host Lanier next Friday in the opening round of the playoffs. The Wildcats (3-6, 2-2) clinched the No. 3 seed in the region and will travel to Raymond for their first-round clash. The decision knocked Moss Point out of playoff contention due to tie-breaking procedures even though the Tigers throttled GCHS 46-13 last week. All Feaster and the Tigers needed was a win of any kind by the heavily favored Hornet to mean a spot in the postseason.
In a see-saw battle that saw both offenses move the ball at will, it was Greene County that made the biggest play of the game, a 7-yard touchdown pass from junior Coby King.to sophomore Jase Matthews with 22 seconds left in the game.
Sophomore Maisen Tribble’s second attempt at a kick for the conversion – after the Hornets were flagged for roughing the kicker on the first – sailed through the uprights for the winning margin.
“We didn’t prepare like we should have, and I’ll take that one,” said Beech. “It kind of bled over to the whole team. Mix that with some injuries and Greene County played a great game, and we got upset tonight.”
On the first play after the kickoff, senior Treyvon Cooper picked off junior Sydney Blackmon’s pass to seal the win and send the Wildcats to the playoffs.
“We told our kids that what Poplarville had that we didn’t have was confidence,” said Greene County coach Michael King. “The way you get that is through past success. I told them that we’ve got to make some plays early to build some confidence, and we did that.”
Greene County set the tone for the game on the first possession of the game, taking the opening kickoff of the game on a 10-play, 65-yard scoring play, with senior Keenan Franks getting the score on a 4-yard run.
“It came down to one point at the end of the game,” said senior Jax Owens. “They were running – not really trick plays – but stuff we hadn’t seen on film. It crossed us up a little bit.”
Poplarville responded on its first possession, marching 53 yards on 17 plays, eating up almost 10 minutes off the clock, with freshman Tylan Keys scoring from 7 yards out.
The Hornets converted three fourth downs on the drive, Keys on a 6-yard run on fourth-and-6 at the Wildcat 33-yard-line, senior Lane Amacker on a 9-yard run up the middle to the Wildcat 20 and Blackmon on a 6-yard keeper to the GC 7.
“It was just a matter of following my line,” said Keys. “They had my back all game. We worked hard, and that’s all it was. Give the credit to my line.”
Keys had another big effort for Poplarville, carrying the ball 25 times for 141 yards and two scores.
Greene County, however, embarked on a long drive of its own, taking the ensuing kickoff 80 yards on 15 plays.
The biggest play in the drive, though, was one that wasn’t an official play, but a defensive holding call on fourth-and-5 from the Hornet 16, that set the Wildcats up at the Poplarville 8-yard line.
King ran for 5 yards on first down and Franks got the score on a 3-yard run. However, the PAT kick was no good, and the score remained 13-7.
“They came out with a lot of intensity,” Beech said. “I think maybe they played a little more intense than us.”
With 4 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first half, the Hornets drove as far as the Wildcat 10 before running out of time. Blackmon connected with freshman Payton Hart for a 40-yard pass play to get Poplarville into Wildcat territory.
However, Keys was stopped for a 2-yard gain on third-and-6 from the Greene County 12, and with no time outs remaining, the 26-yard field goal try as time expired with wide right, a defensive stop for Greene County that proved to be the difference.
Poplarville would not be denied on its first possession after halftime, driving 76 yards on nine plays. Another 40-yard pass play, this one from Blackmon to senior Lawrence Jamison, got the Hornets in position.
Keys followed with a 17-yard run and junior Nick Miller scored on an 11-yard run. Sophomore Kyler Booth put Poplarville ahead for the first time with a successful PAT kick.
Back came Greene County, as King connected with senior B.J. Johnson on big pass plays of 17 and 14 yards to senior B.J. Johnson, and King got the score himself on a 10-yard keeper. The PAT pass failed, but the Wildcats were back on top 19-14.
King was a thorn in Poplarville’s side all night, completing 17 of 26 passes for 166 yards and he ran 11 times for 66 yards.
“We were plugging guys in there on defense who were playing out of position,” said Beech. “We were just dealing with injuries, but you’ve still got to play.
“You can go back to five plays where if we play a little bit better technique, maybe play a little harder, maybe the outcome is different. Bottom line is, Greene County played a little harder than we did.”
Once again, Poplarville answered, moving 64 yards on 11 plays. Keys had a big 12-yard run to the Greene County 21, then Amacker had a 15-yard run to the Wildcat 6. Keys got 5 yards, then Blackmon plunged in for the touchdown.
The Wildcats stuffed the PAT run, but the Hornets had a 20-19 lead with 10:45 to play.
However, Greene County came right back. Johnson took the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the Wildcat 46, King ran for 17 yards on the first play of the drive, then hooked up with Johnson for a 26-yard pickup to the Hornet 10.
Poplarville held this time, but Tribble converted a 27-yard field goal to give the Wildcats the lead again, 22-20 with 7:20 to go.
This time, the Hornets wasted little time regaining the lead, going 53 yards on just four plays. Keys had a 22-yard run. Amacker went for 18 and Keys got the touchdown on an 11-yard burst up the middle.
Blackmon passed to Keys for the two-point conversion to give Poplarville a 28-22 lead. However, that would be the last time Keys touched the ball.
“I feel pretty good about where we are,” said Keys. “I think we’re going to come back and make a little run.”
It took some big-time heroics for Greene County to score the winning touchdown. Matthews made a leaping catch on fourth-and-13 from the Poplarville 47, King converted a third down with a 3-yard run to the Hornet 9-yard-line, and the score also came on fourth down.
For the game, Greene County was 6 of 10 on third down and 3 for 3 on fourth down.
Despite the loss, Poplarville will regroup as it prepares for postseason.
“We’re still (region) champs, with a 7-3 season,” said Beech. “Not many people expected that from us with such a young team, so I told the kids they can be proud of that. We did what we had to do to win the (region) and now we’re looking forward to the playoffs.”