Lawrence County will face a similar foe in Poplarville Hornets in 4A quarterfinal

Published 11:00 am Friday, November 17, 2023

The formations used by Lawrence County (7-5) and Poplarville High (9-3) might not all be exactly the same, but their intentions are similar. Both the Cougars from Lawrence County and the Hornets from Poplarville want to impose their will via a strong rushing attack.

The team that is able to best do that tonight in Monticello will move on to play in the next round of the postseason.

Kickoff between the schools will be 7 p.m. at Lawrence County in the third round of the MHSAA 4A playoffs.

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LC and Poplarville first met on the field in 2017 when MHSAA reclassification put them into the same region for the first time. PHS is 5-0 versus the Cougars and have won those games by an average margin of 32 points.

In 2019, Lawrence County and head coach Jesse Anderson had a memorable playoff run ended by Poplarville. That year, the Cougars won in the first round with an upset over a higher seeded Mendenhall squad, beat Greene County at home in the second round on a late field goal and then went to Newton County and won in overtime in the quarterfinals.

Poplarville earned a place in the 4A state title game by beating the Cougars 38-14 in Pearl River County in the semifinals.

That season was part of a run where the Hornets made the 4A state title game in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. The Hornets are still looking for their first title though as 10th year head coach Jay Beech is 105-31 all-time at the school, which includes a 29-9 record in the postseason.

This season Poplarville is 9-3 with losses to 3A quarterfinalist Jefferson Davis County (32-14), 7A power West Jones (42-0) and region rival Green County (29-28).

The Hornets are led by Tylan Keyes, a freshman ball carrier who’s rushed it 116 times for 994 yards and 21 touchdowns. Senior Lane Amacker has rushed for 901 yards and eight more touchdowns, and the ground attack also boasts junior Nick Miller, who’s gained 569 yards too.

PHS isn’t completely one dimensional, as quarterback Sydney Blackmon has thrown for 564 yards this season.

Poplarville faced little resistance in the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating Lanier 58-26 and Forrest County AHS 45-15.

There might be some, who while filling out their 4A bracket a couple weeks ago, might have penciled in McComb High to face Poplarville in this third-round matchup.

The Cougars proved any doubters wrong with a 28-25 road win on Friday to knock off a previously unbeaten McComb High team.

There were a couple of huge, explosive plays that laid the groundwork for the Cougar win.

Trailing 13-8 in the second quarter, LC got an 82-yard touchdown run from senior running back Ahmad Hardy.

McComb then led 19-14 in the third quarter when senior quarterback Kannon Cato shot out for an 85-yard touchdown run where he raced away from every McComb Tiger on the field with his breakaway speed.

The homestanding Tigers led again at 25-22 before a fourth quarter touchdown run by Hardy gave LC the go-ahead score. A McComb comeback attempt ended with four minutes remaining when Cato intercepted a pass from his position as a defensive back.

On the ground, Hardy rushed the ball 24 times for 281 yards and two scores. He averaged 11.7 yards per carry.

For the season, Hardy has rushed for 2,261 yards and 27 touchdowns. His recruitment has also picked up of late as he’s earned offers from Southern Miss and Arkansas State.

Cato carried the ball seven times for 107 yards against McComb. The Cougars also got 62 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown from senior fullback Markavion Owens.On the year, Cato has rushed for 1,180 yards and 23 touchdowns while the dependable Owens has chipped in 720 rushing yards.

Amare Weathersby, Javacious Magee, Jatavious Robertson, Alvin Peyton, Ty Ellis, Elijah Smith and Jah’shawa Clark make up the Lawrence County offensive line.

Senior defensive lineman Keondrae Leggett led the LC defense with six tackles against McComb. Freshman Jeremiah Fortenberry added five tackles for the Cougars. Leggett recovered three fumbles as well, while causing two of them and junior Lauria McDuffey also recovered a fumble.

Pass Christian (9-2) and Columbia High (12-0) are meeting in a game that’ll decide who plays the winner between LC and Poplarville. Pass and PHS play in the same district and Poplarville won the regular season meeting 31-23. Lawrence County and Columbia are also region-mates, and the Wildcats from Marion County won their regular season meeting 41-14.