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Panthers take hopes to D’Iberville

While most high school football teams have stored away theirequipment, the Brookhaven Panthers are still going strong. ThePanthers (7-4) visit the D’Iberville Warriors (10-1) Friday nightfor the third round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Kickoff is 7p.m.

In the other South State semifinals game, Picayune plays atGeorge County. In the North State semifinals, Lafayette County isat Grenada and Louisville is at West Point. Semifinals winners playNov. 29, for the North and South Mississippi championships and aberth in the state title game Dec. 7, in Jackson.

“We are ready to tee it up again,” said BHS head coach TuckerPeavey. “We are excited about getting to play D’Iberville.”

D’Iberville, coached by Louis Smith, is the No. 1-ranked team onthe Gulf Coast. The Warriors eliminated Gautier 28-23 last Fridaynight. They whipped Lawrence County 42-0 in the opening round.

Last year D’Iberville lost 14-6 to South Pike in the South Statechampionship game. The Warriors have 21 seniors on their team, ledby all-state defensive lineman Sean Merrill (6-4, 280) who has madea verbal commitment to sign with Ole Miss. Merrill, Coach Smith’sstepson, wears jersey No. 99.

Peavey described D’Iberville. “They are probably the bestcombination of size and speed we’ve seen this year. They have somegood-sized people on both sides of the ball; a very senior-orientedteam.”

Describing Sean Merrill, Peavey said, “He’s a big ol’ defensiveend who plays in the backfield some when they want to pound theball.”

Two of Brookhaven’s defensive starters, senior linebackerEmmanuel Perkins, and sophomore lineman Jesse Bowman, are confidentthe Panthers will play well against D’Iberville. They helped shutout powerhouse South Pike 2-0 last Friday night in a defensivestruggle on King Field.

Bowman had 6 tackles and a big fumble recovery which killed aSouth Pike scoring opportunity. Perkins had 1 interception and 5tackles.

“I’ve never been past the first round of the playoffs until thisyear and it feels good,” said Perkins. “It was a very emotionalgame for us when we beat South Pike.”

Perkins (6-0, 192) said the Panthers will be ready forD’Iberville. “They have a pretty good program. We just have to hitthem hard and win. We know that we have not played our best game onoffense and defense.”

Brookhaven defensive tackle Philip Tobias scored the decisivepoints against South Pike when he sacked quarterback Fred Jones fora 2-point safety late in the first half. Defensive end Julius Lloydled the Panthers with 8 solo tackles and linebacker Belma Cager had6.

Bowman’s fumble return went for 61 yards. Bowman (6-0, 311) wascaught from behind by a South Pike tackler.

“The ball was in the air and I caught it,” Bowman remembered thefumble. “I thought I might go all the way for a touchdown.”

A starter at offensive guard as a freshman, Bowman was moved todefense in the spring. “I enjoy the defensive coaches and theplayers. I like defense better than offense.”

Bowman said the Panthers need another super team effort againstD’Iberville. “Everybody must come together and play as one.”

Smith Looks At Panthers

>”Brookhaven is a young team with a lot of talent,” saidCoach Smith. “They have some nice looking linemen. They seem to bea well-coached team that gets better every week.”

Quarterback Jimmy Johns and running back Darius Perkins, bothsophomores; lead Brookhaven’s offense. Smith said, “They have somegood athletes in the backfield. Their quarterback is a goodoperator. He has a lot of poise running the offense.”

Asked about his D’Iberville squad, Smith said, “We have a bunchof seniors on this team. “We have been playing well ondefense.”

Smith’s Warriors had allowed just 4 offensive touchdowns in 9games, entering the state playoffs. They were torched for 3 TDpasses and 299 passing yards by Gautier.

The Warriors boast an outstanding senior punter/placekicker inDarren McCaleb (5-11, 170). He’s leading the state with a 37-yardpunting average.

D’Iberville’s main mover on offense is tailback Carlton Cotton(5-10, 185). Cotton has rushed for over 1,500 yards this season. Heran for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns in the win over Gautier.

Senior Nick Ladner (6-1, 195) quarterbacks the Warriors.

Panther Paws: In 1997, Brookhaven beatD’Iberville 28-14 on King Field in the opening round of the stateplayoffs. The Panthers finished 12-1, losing to Northeast Jones inthe South State title game.