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Panthers tackle Gautier Gators

Brookhaven’s Panthers get introduced to the Gautier GatorsFriday night in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs.Kickoff is 7:30 in Pascagoula’s War Memorial Stadium.

In other South State 4A games tomorrow night, McComb (9-1) hostsD’Iberville (8-3), Laurel (11-0) hosts Petal (9-2), and Columbia(9-1) hosts Mendenhall (7-4). In North 4A action, Clarksdale (9-1)hosts Itawamba AHS (8-3), Hernando (8-2) hosts Cleveland (10-1),Florence (10-1) hosts Noxubee County (6-5) and Louisville (10-1)hosts Wingfield (8-3).

The Gators (8-2) suffered their first 2-loss season. They lostto Gulfport (28-20) and Escambia, Fla. (28-22); the first lossesfor Gautier in regular season action. Escambia and Gulfport areboth larger schools with twice the enrollment of Gautier’s 900students.

Gautier became a new high school in Jackson County andPascagoula High’s enrollment was cut nearly in half six years ago.This is the fourth year for Gautier to have a varsity program andthe Gators boast 26 straight wins in division play. They haveposted records of 11-1, 12-1, 11-1 and 8-2.

Donald Nelson has been head coach at Gautier for three years. Hehas served as offensive coordinator for four years and called everyplay.

The Gators finished 11-1 last season, losing to Lawrence Countyin the second round of the state playoffs. Last year they were ledby all-state quarterback RayRay Bivens and all-state wide receiverAntonio Hargro. Both players signed with Mississippi State.

Bivens is working as scout team quarterback at Miss. State thisyear. Hargro has been redshirted.

Quarterbacking the Gators this season is Leonard Nutter (6-2,195, sr.). He was a wide receiver last year.

Nelson said the decision to permanently move Nutter toquarterback came in the Escambia game. “Our sophomore quarterbackthrew three interceptions and fumbled twice so we put Nutter in. Healmost won the game for us.”

Nutter is well-balanced on the statistics chart. He has thrownfor 1,072 yards, completing 58 of 124 passes for 16 touchdowns.

Gautier’s running backs are fast. Brian Barnett (5-8, 155) hasrushed for 765 yards and 8 touchdowns. Barnett averages 8.1 yardsper carry. Charles Estess has played in seven games and gained 591yards on 59 attempts for 9 TDs. Estess also is a a greatreceiver.

Gautier runs a double slot alignment with just one back.

The Gators’ placekicker, Mike McLaughlin (6-1, 205), is a majorcollege prospect. He has made 32 of 35 extra points and 10 of 13field goal attempts. McLaughlin’s longest field goal is 47 yards.He just missed a 57-yarder last week against Stone County.

Leading the Gautier defense is cornerback/safety Emile Houser(6-1, 180) who runs a 4.5. Michael Urbani (5-8, 295) at defensivetackle, has strength and quickness.

Gautier linebacker Elbert Shoemake (6-3, 240, jr.) runs a 4.740.

Nelson said his team’s defense isn’t as dominate as last year.”I’ve been nice to folks this year. We average about 32 points pergame. We don’t have the ball as much this year. We let a lot of ouryounger boys play.”

Nelson and his staff have been watching the Panthers on filmthis week. “Brookhaven has a real fine team. They are similar tous. They have a pretty good quarterback in Perkins.”

Nelson said Brookhaven’s defense has played well. “On defensethey scheme you. They take away what makes the other teamtick.”

Brookhaven head coach Greg Wall said the Gators resemble lastyear’s outstanding squad. “I saw the game last year againstLawrence County. They are almost a mirror of the team theyhad.”

Wall said Gautier has another outstanding receiver. “Number 85,Tabory Lott, is the split end. He’s a lot like Hargro. He’s about6-5 and can catch the ball. I don’t know how we can match up withhim. We have a bunch of short kids in our secondary.”

There are 24 seniors on Gautier’s team. “They have so muchspeed,” aid Wall. “They have beaten people with big plays.”

Wall said the Gators are strong on defense, too. “Defensively,they have some really big people up front. They run a split typedefense. Their secondary runs to the ball well.”

Wall said the Panthers (7-2) have played hard and exceededexpectations. They need an exceptional effort against Gautier.”Hopefully, we can play with them. We need a good game on bothsides of the ball. We’ll have to play hard on every down.”

Quarterback Fred Perkins (6-3, 210), leads the Panther attack.He has rushed for 752 yards and scored 15 touchdowns this year. Hehas thrown one TD pass. Perkins was chosen The DailyLeader’s Offensive Player of the Week after his 171-yardsrushing, 3-touchdown performance in the 30-14 win over LawrenceCounty.

Tailback Cornelius Allen, fullback Josh Anderson and wingbackTarik Williams compliment Perkins in the backfield.

Senior offensive tackle Randy Jackson said making the stateplayoffs is a dream come true for Brookhaven’s 15 seniors. “Lastyear we had a good team and didn’t make it. Our seniors didn’t wantto graduate without making it to the playoffs.”

On defense, linebacker Ron Mackabee leads the Panthers intackles. Against Lawrence County, defensive end Perry Brumfield ledthe Panthers with 9 tackles. Mackabee had 7 tackles and DanielWalker and Raphael Smith 6 apiece. Thomas Barlow intercepted apass.

Panther Paws: In 1997, when Brookhaven won the Division 6-4Atitle, the Panthers (12-1) beat D’Iberville and Picayune beforelosing to Northeast Jones in the South State championship game.