Panthers facing Picayune Maroon Tide in MHSAA 5A quarterfinals

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Fresh from a big win on King Field over East Central in the opening round of the MHSAA 5A playoffs, the Brookhaven High Panthers (7-3) are on the road Friday for a quarterfinal matchup in Pearl River County against the Picayune Maroon Tide (11-1).

It’s the fifth time for the schools to meet in the postseason as the last BHS win over Picayune came in a 1997 4A second round game on King Field.

In the 1997 matchup, both Picayune head coach Dodd Lee and then Brookhaven High head coach Greg Wall were in their respective second years at each school.

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Wall left BHS after five years to take back the job he had before coming to Brookhaven as head coach at South Pike.

Lee ended up coaching Picayune for 24 seasons and won two state championship — in 2011 and 2013 — before retiring following the 2019 season.

Cody Stogner is in his second year as head coach at Picayune after previously working as the offensive coordinator for Lee.

Though the school has had a different boss for the last two seasons, one thing has stayed the same as it was under Lee — Picayune is going to run the football.

It’s a formula that produces some of the most prolific numbers posted by high school running backs year-in and year-out.

This season the bell-cow for the PHS offensive is junior running back Dante Dowdell.

The 6-foot-2, 205 Dowdell has carried the ball 238 times this season for 1,953 yards. He averages 162 rushing yards per game and 8.2 yards per carry. Dowdell has scored 20 TDs on the ground this season.

Dowdell went for a season high 255 yards and four scores in a win against Vancleave and last week he rushed 27 times for 211 yards and one touchdown in a 35-13 win against Hattiesburg.

Sophomore Chris Davis is second on the team with 14 touchdowns in 2021 and scored three last week against Hattiesburg.

The Maroon Tide are going to line up with two-tight ends and a fullback in front of Dowdell. When quarterback Dawson Underwood makes a pitch to a running back, he then turns and hunts a player to block as PHS tries to overwhelm a defense at the point of attack.

Getting off blocks, controlling the middle of the line and pursuing the football with sure handed tackles will all be points of emphasis for the Ole Brook defense.

The lone loss this season for Picayune was a 27-13 defeat to 6A D’Iberville.

East Central is also a team that thrives on using a power rushing attack, but in the first round they found out that the BHS defense and coach Tucker Peavey have a difference maker in the middle.

Senior nose tackle Caleb Harris could not be blocked by the Hornet offensive line as he finished with 16 tackles, including one for a loss, while also causing a fumble for the Panthers.

Freshman linebacker Markel Smitha and junior linebacker Malachi Williams also had eight tackles each for the BHS defense.

Smith also picked off the first pass of his young career, an interception he returned for 37 yards.

Senior AJ Robinson made six tackles as did junior lineman Zamarion Diggs. Marvis McDaniel, Jimmy Johns Jr., Nathan Lewis and Jaden Watson also had five stops each for defensive coordinator Corey McLaurin in the win against East Central.

Senior quarterback Dre Ross passed for 105 yards and two scores, on just four completions, in the win over EC. Both scores went to senior Javonta Stewart while senior Latavian Hill also had one catch for 14 yards.

The Brookhaven High offensive line of seniors Omarion Diggs (6-foot-2, 275-pounds), Zerion Hudson (6-foot-4, 320-pounds) and juniors Landon Smith (6-foot-3, 270-pounds), Amari Smith (6-foot-5, 280-pounds) and Jalen Tobias (5-foot-11, 270-pounds) made big holes for Panther ball carriers throughout the East Central game.

Junior Brodie Ezell, sophomore Bryce Smith and freshman Gaylon Gayten work as the tight ends for BHS. Senior Jailon Brown also starts at wide receiver for the Panthers.

Against East Central, Ross carried the ball 12 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Xavier Gayten added 107 yards and a score on 15 rushes.

The winner between Brookhaven High and Picayune will move on the 5A semifinals next week to face the winner between West Jones (9-2) and Laurel High (8-3). West Jones won the first meeting between the schools 24-21 on Oct. 22.