In the past three years, South Pike has found success during the regular season, winning the District 6-4A title each year. However, in the playoffs, the Eagles have had trouble getting past the third round. That issue was unfortunately present again Friday night as South Pike could not get over the hump, falling short of South State after losing to the Poplarville Hornets 31-20 in Poplarville.
“We weren’t at our best tonight and they (Poplarville) did some things offensively that gave us some trouble,” South Pike head coach Brinson Wall said.
The Eagles (13-1) came out fired up on defense holding the powerful rushing attack of the Hornets (8-5) in check on the first drive allowing only one first down.
After getting the ball back via a punt, it took only one play for South Pike to light up its side of the scoreboard. Eagle quarterback Dontavious Turner dropped back and lobbed a perfectly thrown ball to Alex Adams as the senior duo completed an 80-yard touchdown pass putting South Pike up 6-0 early.
Looking to answer, Poplarville went back to its run game and had success moving the ball into South Pike territory. On the eighth play of the drive, however, the Eagles forced a fumble and fell on top of the ball to regain possession.
Turner and the Eagles then moved the ball down to the Hornet 18-yard line, but the drive stalled following an unsuccessful fourth down.
About halfway through the second quarter, Poplarville put up its first points of the night following a 3-yard touchdown run by Zac Owen. The extra point by Zach Carpenter was good, putting South Pike down 7-6.
The score seemed to fire up the Hornet defense as they forced a 3-and-out on the Eagles’ next drive. After regaining possession Poplarville marched back down the field as the second quarter clock ticked down to under one minute to go. With :05 left, Carpenter connected on a 17-yard field goal, making the score 10-6 at the half.
Struggles in the passing game for the Eagles including dropped passes and pressure on Turner forced several runs by the senior quarterback. On the first drive of the second half, Turner ran the ball on three of the first four plays for the Eagles. Despite getting a first down, the drive stalled for South Pike forcing a punt.
After regaining possession, the Hornets’ offense went back to work. A nine-play drive wrapped when Owen plunged into the end zone from three yards out and with the extra point, South Pike found itself trailing by 11 at 17-6.
It appeared that the Eagles clawed their way back into the ball game on the ensuing drive after Turner found some running room and sprinted into the end zone from 55 yards out. But a holding penalty not only took the touchdown away for the Eagles, it also resulted in a 3rd and 22 which they could not convert resulting in a punt back to the Hornets.
Late in the third quarter, the Eagle defense kept the Hornets in check, stuffing the run game. Once they got the ball back, the Eagles struck again. On the second play of the drive, Turner found some running room and took it to the house from 80 yards out. Chris Royal added the 2-point conversion run pulling South Pike within three at 17-14.
Unfortunately, that would be the closest the Eagles would get for the remainder of the night. A facemask penalty on the ensuing kickoff set the Hornets up with great field position, and they took advantage. Poplarville orchestrated a 13-play, drive 43-yard drive that ended with Owen’s third rushing touchdown of the evening increasing the South Pike deficit to 10 at 24-14.
The Eagles answered with Turner’s second rushing and third overall touchdown of the game when he slipped through the Hornet defense and into the end zone from 23 yards out. But the two-point conversion that would have pulled South Pike within two was unsuccessful.
Trailing 24-20, an exhausted Eagle defense tried for one last stand, but the Hornets used their multitude of running backs to further wear down South Pike. Owen scored his fourth touchdown on a 4-yard run with under a minute to go.
Turner led the Eagles with 14 rushes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He added another score through the air. The Hornets were led by Owen who had 146 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries.
After the game, Wall was disappointed in the outcome of the contest, but had a great sense of pride for the year that his team put together.
“It was a heck of a ride,” he said. “It was a great year and I am super proud of these kids. Best of luck to Poplarville. We had a great crowd tonight. This is going to be a hard one to swallow for a while.”