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Pearl River escapes Wolfpack

WESSON — Pearl River Community College’s fans and players heldtheir breath. They couldn’t start celebrating their 21-20 Saturdaynight victory over Co-Lin until Nick Gunter’s last-second, 43-yardfield goal missed its mark in chilly Stone Stadium.

Finally, pandemonium broke loose on the west side of the fieldas the Wildcats began celebrating a fourth consecutive statechampionship. The win also avenged a 31-21 loss to the Wolfpackback in September.

Pearl River (10-1) still has a shot at a national championshipgame. Co-Lin ends its season 8-3, with an outside chance of goingto a bowl game.

The Wildcats shut out Co-Lin in the second half after fallingbehind 14-0 in the first quarter. They scored the tying touchdownon an acrobatic catch by wide receiver Demetrius Byrd with just 44seconds left to play. Byrd caught a 36-yard toss from quarterbackCarlton Hill, leaping between two Co-Lin defenders at the goalline.

Freshman place-kicker Brad Bingham of Moss Point trotted ontothe field and kicked the go-ahead extra point.

The Wolfpack valiantly tried a comeback. Quarterback CedricJohnson completed 3 straight passes, moving the football to PRCC’s26-yard line, making back-to-back connections to Thomas Hinton.

“That field goal would have won it,” said Co-Lin coach GlennDavis as he cradled the state/regional runner-up plaque. “We hadother opportunities to score but we didn’t get it done.

“Our players and coaches worked their tails off to make ussuccessful,” Davis added. “Hats off to Pearl River. They made onemore play than we did.”

Byrd, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from Miami, Fla., stood proudly ashis teammates took turns posing with the gold football trophy. Hehad 3 catches for 83 yards in the game and Hill completed 13 of 27for 272 yards.

“I knew if I got man-to-man coverage, I could make the play,”said Byrd. “The quarterback read me and I made the play for theteam.”

Co-Lin started the game with a bang as an estimated crowd of4,000 watched the Pack howl to a 14-0, first-quarter lead. Johnsonhooked up with wide receiver Damoyn Carroll on a 57-yard reception.Carroll made the catch over his shoulder.

Gunter’s PAT kick put Co-Lin up 7-0 with 11:51 left in the firstquarter. The Pack went 67 yards in 5 plays.

On their next possession, the Pack needed just one play toscore. Running back Aaron Johns broke through the left side of hisline and outran the Wildcats 75 yards to the end zone. Johnsfinished with 26 carries for 180 yards.

PRCC got on the scoreboard when Hill, under severe pressure,dumped a short pass to running back Seth Hayden who raced 15 yardsfor a TD. Bingham’s PAT capped the 8-play, 69-yard march.

The Wildcats authored a lightning strike after Gunter’s punt wasdowned at the PRCC 4-yard line. Hill hooked up with wide receiverJ.J. Smith who got behind Co-Lin’s secondary and went 81 yards fora TD. Bingham’s PAT tied the game at 14-14 with 10:23 left in thefirst half.

Co-Lin marched 98 yards for its final TD. Johnson scrambled thefinal 22 yards to paydirt, capping the 12-play march.

Gunter’s PAT kick was wide right and Co-Lin led 20-14 with 1:10left in the first half.

PRCC head coach Tim Hatten praised his team’s second-halfdefensive effort. “We didn’t allow any points after halftime. Ihope we play better than we did tonight if we get to play for anational championship.

“Co-Lin has a great team and Glenn Davis has worked hard to turnthe program around,” said Hatten who is in his fifth season at thePRCC helm. “I hope they get to go to a bowl game.”

Neither team scored in the third quarter. Safety Jasper O’Quinnintercepted Hill at the goal line to kill a touchdown drive with4:58 showing in the third frame.