Night of near misses ends with Laurel eliminating BHS from 5A postseason

Published 11:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2023

The beginning of the MHSAA 5A playoff matchup between Brookhaven High and Laurel High hurdled back and forth down the field with a manic pace as the homestanding Golden Tornadoes led 24-14 after a first quarter that took over 30 minutes of real time to play.

Brookhaven would get close to overcoming that deficit on several occasions but could never get a clean break in an eventual 31-28 win for Laurel High.

Pinch your pointer finger and thumb close together and you’ll be looking at the tiny margin that held BHS back in the second half.

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It was thhhhhhhiiiiiiiiisssss close for the Panthers on series after series, but self-inflicted mistakes and flags that went he way of Laurel came whenever BHS got close to getting the lead.

Part of that wild opening sequence was Laurel returning the opening kickoff down to the BHS 10-yard line and then scoring on the first play from scrimmage to go ahead 7-0.

The Golden Tornadoes blare a storm siren when they score and the noise from its opening cry was still echoing through the brick façade of Watkins Stadium when Brookhaven High senior running back Xavier Gayten answered back with a 65-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.

The next Laurel scoring drive was a little longer than the first as they covered 61 yards on six plays to go back up 14-7.

And again, as he’s done all year, Gayten gave his team another long, explosive scoring run. A Mississippi State commit that will go down as one of the all-time great ball carriers in the long history of BHS football, Gayten had two touchdowns and 102 yards on his first two carries.

The next Laurel possession felt like a win for the Panthers after they held the Golden Tornadoes to a field goal that made the score 17-14, but the home team then got the ball back in great field position after a short punt by BHS.

Laurel only needed three plays to score and go ahead 24-14.

The Panther defense began to figure things out after that and forced the first Laurel punt of the night with six minutes left until halftime.

Senior Nathan Lewis then ripped off a 25-yard touchdown run with 1:08 left until halftime to pull BHS within 24-21 at the break.

Lewis is a linebacker who’s been a team leader in tackles and on Friday he gave his team a huge boost by playing more running back while Gayten slid over to quarterback.

Brookhaven High turned the ball over via an interception to kill a promising drive to start the third quarter though.

The second BHS possession of the third quarter had a long Gayten touchdown run called back by a flag for holding, something that also happened in the first half.

Laurel pushed the lead back out to 31-21, but Lewis answered that with a 60-yard touchdown run that had the BHS faithful dreaming about winning at Laurel High for the first time since bell-bottoms were originally in style.

Ole Brook defensive ends Gaylon Gayten and Devontavious Drummond combined on a big sack as BHS took back over offensive possession, trailing 31-28, with 5:47 left in the game and the ball on its own 32-yard line.

And on the first snap, the ball went over Xavier Gayten’s head for a four-yard loss. The Panthers would fail to convert a first down and turn the ball back over on downs, which allowed Laurel to run out the clock.

The Panther defense held LHS to 83 combined yards in the second half. Gayten rushed the ball 22 times for 184 yards to lead the BHS offense. Lewis got 164 yards on nine carries in his last game as a Panther.

Laurel (7-6) moves on to play Gautier (8-4) in the MHSAA 5A South State Championship game. The Gators from Gautier beat Florence High 36-34 on Friday. Laurel beat Gautier 48-30 in the regular season.

West Point beat a previously unbeaten Holmes County Central team 34-17 and Clarksdale shut out Lafayette 21-0 in the other 5A quarterfinal games on Friday.

Brookhaven High and coach Tucker Peavey end the 2023 campaign with a 7-5 record.