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Hazlehurst Indians ambush South Pike

HAZLEHURST — Quarterback Damien Anderson wanted to makesomething happen. He turned a busted play into the game-winningtouchdown Friday night, sparking the Hazlehurst Indians to a 22-19upset of No. 1-ranked and previously unbeaten South Pike (13-1) inthe South State Class 3A championship game.

A record crowd estimated at 5,000-plus witnessed the criticalplay on Hazlehurst’s first possession of the second half. Andersonhad taken the snap from center but fullback Kynshun Reese collidedwith him on the pivot. Anderson was nearly knocked down but heregained his composure and scrambled 15 yards to paydirt.

On the 2-point conversion try, Courtney Hall scooted aroundright end, hurdled a South Pike tackler at the goal line and gavethe Indians a 22-13 advantage with 8:58 left in the third quarter.Supported by a cat-quick, rip-saw defense, the Indians (12-0) madean earth-shaking statement in Robert McDaniel Sr. Stadium and nowplay for their first-ever state championship.

Hazlehurst will face the Charleston Tigers (13-1) for the Class3A state title Saturday at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium inJackson. Kickoff is 11 a.m., the first game in a tripleheader.

Charleston defeated defending state champion Senatobia 27-6Friday night in the North State title game.

“It was a broken play,” Anderson said. “I had to make somethinghappen.”

Anderson said the Indians were fighting for respect. “We had alot to prove. Some people thought we would lose, but we played hardand we played our best.”

For the game, Anderson completed 5 of 11 passes for 91 yards.Hall (5-10, 170), a swift junior, ran 6 yards for the game’s firsttouchdown, capping a 49-yard drive which was set up by DeArrionWilbert’s fumble recovery near midfield.

Anderson, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior, also passed 7 yards toJohnny Sanders for a touchdown just before halftime. Hall took theball in on the conversion try and Hazlehurst led 14-13.

In an epic defensive struggle, the Indians held South Pike’shigh-powered offense to just 125 yards, including 101 via the passand 24 rushing. The Eagles were brought down by 7 turnovers,including 5 lost fumbles and 2 interceptions.

“South Pike is a good team but we stuck together,” saidHazlehurst defensive tackle Devin Johnson who had 6 tackles. Hesaid Hazlehurst’s team motto, “No guts, no glory,” had come trueagain.

The Eagles allowed Hazlehurst a 6-play, 74-yard scoring drive onthe Indians’ first possession of the second half. The Indians got 3first downs on that drive and none the remainder of the game.

South Pike had pulled ahead 7-6 in the first quarter whenDerrick Ross blocked a punt by Hazlehurst’s Kevin Holmes at the8-yard line and linebacker DeWayne Pittman recovered in the endzone for a touchdown. Randy Carter kicked the PAT for a 7-6 leadwith 3:32 showing.

The Eagles capitalized on a fumble by Reese at the Hazlehurst2-yard line. Chris Abron plunged across the goal line on first downfor a 13-6 lead. Two plays earlier, Eagle quarterback Kelsey Islandhad fumbled at the Indians’ 4-yard line and Antonio Roebuckrecovered.

Hazlehurst head coach Willie Brown was mobbed by well-wishersafter the game. He had expected a difficult, hard-foughtcontest.

“I anticipated a game like this,” said Brown. “We had a few guysget hurt. Number 18 (Kevin Holmes) had a virus all week.”

Brown said his team’s speed was decisive on offense and defense.”Our kids can run. I know they’re fast.”

Deflated by 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles in the second half,South Pike reduced its deficit to 22-19 with 4:02 left in the game.Island hit wide receiver Brinson Johnson on a slant pattern for 11yards and the TD. Island overthrew Nicholas Wells on the 2-pointconversion pass.

The Eagles got their final chance after a Hazlehurst punt rolleddead at the Indians’ 40-yard line with 2:06 remaining. Hazlehurstrose to the occasion and strong safety Quentin Barnes interceptedIsland at the Hazlehurst 2 with 1:01 showing on the scoreboardclock.

South Pike coach Randall Huffman was disappointed by thedefense. He had coached at Hazlehurst from 1983-91. He was embracedby several Hazlehurst fans after the game.

“We shut (Indians) down the second half after that touchdown,”said Huffman. “Hazlehurst was good up front on defense and theykept pressing us.

“We could play each other 10 times and either team could win,”Huffman pointed out. “It was a battle.”

On defense, Johnson and Roebuck had 6 tackleseach for Hazlehurst. Darion Wilbert recovered 2 fumbles. Sandersand Dundre Pendleton had 5 tackles apiece.