Florence controls the ball in 24-21 win over Brookhaven High

Published 12:02 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

Florence High (4-3) used a punishing ground game to dictate time of possession and the pace of play on Thursday in the MHSAA Region 3-5A opener for the Eagles and the visiting Brookhaven High Panthers (2-4).

A fourth quarter touchdown pulled BHS within three points, but the Eagles were able to pick up the needed first downs to run out time in a 24-21 home victory that matched up region favorites.

Florence will travel next week to play at North Pike in Summit while Brookhaven High is back on King Field next week to celebrate homecoming against Provine (5-2).

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On Thursday, the Eagles picked up 357 yards on the ground via 55 rushes in a game where they attempted just six passes.

Senior running back Xzavion Quick was a big part of that ground success as he ran behind a strong offensive line along with senior quarterback Luke Reed.

Florence head coach Rod Davis and his Eagles were opportunistic all night as they used a fake punt on the opening drive of the game to pick up a first down on a possession that ended with a made field goal.

With one minute left until halftime, the Eagles pushed that lead out to 10-0 when Reed scored on a 7-yard quarterback keeper.

BHS ran just 13 plays in the first half as they were undone by a lost fumble and a holding penalty that negated a touchdown run in the first two quarters.

Brookhaven senior running back Xavier Gayten got his team started with a strong possession to begin the second half as his first touchdown of the game came on a 55-yard scamper. The PAT snap was mishandled as the Panthers cut the deficit to 10-6.

The response by Florence came in a hurry as Quick capped off a 65-yard, six play drive that took two minutes and 30 seconds off the clock with his first touchdown run of the game.

FHS was crafty again on special teams as they recovered an onside kick after going ahead 17-6 on Quick’s touchdown run.

It looked like the Panther defense would force a punt and get possession back following the onside kick, but a penalty on the punt from Brookhaven extended the possession for Florence.

The Eagles made BHS pay for the mistake as they scored later in the drive to go-ahead 24-6.

To their credit, the Panthers didn’t fold as Gayten scored on a run with 11:03 left in the game. BHS converted the 2-point conversion to cut the Florence advantage to 24-14.

Momentum stayed on the side of Ole Brook as sophomore quarterback Dreamus Harron scored on a touchdown run with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter. The PAT kick was successful, and Florence led 24-21.

Harron’s run capped off a five-play drive that covered 74 yards.

The Florence offense did what it needed after that, picking up enough first downs to maintain possession and the lead as the Eagles were able to kneel on the ball to wrap up the victory.

Brookhaven came into the game with a 2-3 record after suffering three straight losses to Pearl, McComb and Northwest Rankin. Those three teams are a combined 17-2 overall after NW Rankin topped Pearl 21-13 on Thursday.

Florence won a close game with Brookhaven after probably having more experience with close losses than any team in the state. The Eagles started the season 3-0 and then lost three in a row to Mendenhall (42-41 in double OT), Holmes County Central (42-40) and Hancock High (22-20) before getting the win over BHS.

For coach Tucker Peavey and his Panthers, the path to finishing in the top two of the region and hosting a first round playoff game is clear, the Panthers need to win out to finish the regular season.

The next test is a homecoming pairing with Provine, who opened region play on Thursday with a 18-7 road win at South Jones on Thursday. BHS will then play at South Jones (2-5) and at North Pike (2-3) before closing the regular season out at home on Thursday, Nov. 2 against Natchez High (2-4).

The Panthers and Eagles are members of Region 3-5A, which pairs up with Region 4-5A in the opening round of the postseason. Region 4 members include East Central (2-3), Gautier High (2-3), Laurel High (1-5), Stone High (2-3), Wayne County (1-4) and Vancleave (1-4).

West Point (3-2), winners of 11-state title all-time, is among the favorites in the north section of 5A along with unbeaten Holmes County Central (7-0).

Freshman quarterback Jaden Allen started for the Panthers against Florence as Harron made an appearance at the position in the second half after being out recently with an injury. Allen finished 3-of-5 passing for 17 yards while Harron completed one pass for six yards.

On the ground, BHS was led by Gayten with 116 yards on 10 carries. The Mississippi State verbal commit scored two touchdowns. Harron ran twice for 17 yards while Allen rushed eight times for 41 yards. Senior Nate Lewis also picked up four yards on one carry.

Lewis and junior Gaylon Gayten led the BHS defense with 12 total tackles each. Gayten had two tackles for a loss and Lewis had one. EJ Ratliff, a tackling leader all season for the Panther defense, finished with nine tackles.

Injuries are something the BHS defense has had to deal with in 2023. Starting linebacker and senior leader Jimmy Johns Jr. went out with a lower leg injury in the season opener and the Panthers were without the services of sophomore Durrell Washington Jr. on Thursday.

Kickoff between BHS and Provine will cap the homecoming week on Friday and is set for 7 p.m. on King Field.