Just last season, the North Pike Jaguars fell in the second round of the playoffs at home following a hard-fought road win in the first round.
In 2020, the Jaguars grabbed a late lead and held on to top previously undefeated and Class 4A No. 2 Newton County 31-28.
With the win, the Jaguars move on to face Poplarville Hornets, the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
Despite win, things did not start out well for the Jaguars. North Pike sophomore quarterback Cardell McDowell threw an interception, giving Newton County an early momentum boost. The Cougars started out with strong runs, but put their first points on the board via a touchdown pass, taking a 7-0 lead with 8:30 left in the first quarter.
North Pike tried to answer, and even though the Jaguars gained significant yardage, their possession was cut short following a fumble.
The turnover was a punch to the gut for the Jaguars’ offense but all it did was inspire the defense to make a big stop, preventing the Cougars from adding to their lead.
North Pike's offense got back to work, driving towards the endzone. Jermarius Lewis scored the first touchdown less than two minutes into the second quarter on a two-yard run. Jace Brown’s extra point tied the game at 7.
“It was the little things,” Lewis said after thanking God for the victory. “You do the little things and the big things come. My main focus was to do the little things and my teammates helped me out with the little things.”
The Cougars had a cohesive team effort as well, regaining the lead with 80-yard touchdown run not long after Lewis’ touchdown.
“They had a great running back. … They’ve got defensive guys … so it was one of those things that we had to overcome, those position players,” North Pike head coach Matt Mock said.
Following another lengthy drive, Lewis once again put a bow on the possession with another touchdown run with just over 3:00 left in the quarter. Brown added the PAT to give North Pike its first lead of the game at 14-13.
Not long afterward, Brown nailed a 24-yard field goal, making it a 17-13 lead for the Jaguars at the half.
“At the end it became the reason we won. It wasn’t the main reason, but it was a big help,” said Brown.
During the Jaguars’ first possession of the second half, another fumble gave the ball back to the Cougars.
Newton County took advantage, scoring another rushing touchdown before adding a successful two-point conversion to jump back ahead, 21-17.
Just like a heavyweight bout, North Pike answered back with a blow of its own. A scoring pass from McDowell to Zamarea Fountain gave the Jaguars the lead once again at 24-21.
Newton County displayed its strong running game once again and scored a short touchdown run.
Trailing 28-24 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Jaguars called on the fans to help provide a spark.
“Our fans, the band, everybody who comes to support, we feed off of their energy and when they get loud for us, we start to get the momentum and make big plays as a team,” said senior Damuriyon Montgomery. “I just thank everybody who came and supported us.”
Fueled by the fans’ energy, North Pike found success moving the ball down the field. Montgomery back gave North Pike the lead at 31-28 with a three-yard touchdown run.
Then it was the defense's turn to secure the win and it did just that after Tavorius Quin recovered a fumble at the 5:30 mark. From there the Jaguars ran out the clock before walking away with the win.
“We fought to the very end. Honestly, it was just a hard fight,” Mock said. "That’s a good team over there and they played their hearts out and I respect them. We talk about it all the time, about taking it one game at a time, but anytime you play the number-one team in 4A and they’re 10-0. … We’re the underdogs.”