SEMINARY, MS (WDAM) - SEMINARY _ On a football field turned to a muddy mass of mulched muck after a third-quarter rainstorm, Seminary High School football coach Brian Rials shared a promise that came true Friday night.
“We played in a spring game at (University of Southern Mississippi), last spring, and I told the kids, ‘We’re going to start there and we’re going to finish there,’” Rials said. “That’s what everybody’s goal is, and I’m just glad we have the opportunity.”
The Bulldogs (12-3) earned a spot in the Class 3A state championship football game with a 15-9 victory Friday night over Region 8-3A rival Jefferson Davis County High School.
Junior running back Jordan Barrett scored on a 3-yard run and sophomore running back Marquis Crosby bulled in for the two-point conversion with 2:12 to play one snap after Seminary recovered a botched punt snap.
With the late score, Seminary advanced to the state title game for the first time since winning their only state crown in 2003.
In doing so, the Bulldogs also unthroned the defending Class 3A state champions.
“We beat a great football team,” Rials said. “We had to beat them twice this year. That’s one of the best teams in the state right there, but right now, we’re on top.”
Seminary will square off against North State champion Water Valley High School, who avenged a regular-season loss to North Panola High School with a 42-28 victory Friday.
The Blue Devils (13-2) won their only state football championship in 1990.
Seminary and Water Valley will open the six games-in-two days championship weekend at 11 a.m. Friday USM’s M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.
“It’s huge,” said junior cornerback Tyrese Hatten, who was part of a rock-ribbed defense that came up with a pair of goal-line stands. “It’s bigger than anything to us right now.”
And a major factor in that importance arrived at the field in the first half to a standing ovation from the home crowd.
Senior Dalvon Martin was injured in a car accident on his way to practice this summer, and the Bulldogs have rallied all season behind the slogan “Do It For Two,” a nod to Martin’s uniform number.
In fact, Seminary’s team captains carried his jersey to midfield for the pregame coin flip Friday night, and Martin arrived 30 minutes later, surprising his teammates with his first appearance at a game this season.
“We had to do it for our player, number two,” Barrett said. “We’re fighting for him all the way. We’re doing it for team. We’re a family.
“This is super big, mind-blowing big.”
And it nearly didn’t happen.
The rain, which came a deluge in the second half, started in sporadic shifts shortly before kickoff, making footing increasingly interesting and creating a slicker and slicker football.
Seminary went up 7-0 on its first possession when Crosby took a third-down handoff toward left end, cut back inside and was gone, 69 yards, less than two minutes into the game.
The score stayed that way until an ill-advised pass by Seminary was picked at the JDC 35-yard line by junior Michael Carraway.
The Jaguars (10-5) then out together the best drive of the game, going 65 yards in nine plays and tying the game on a determined 22-yard touchdown run over the left side by junior Kyser Booth with 1:42 left in the first half.
On the next possession, Seminary coughed up the ball, with senior linebacker Equandric Ross recovering at the Bulldogs’ 12-yard line. But two runs went nowhere and Hatten stripped away a potential touchdown catch.
On fourth down, a 27-yard field goal attempt was ruined by a slippery football that came in low and tied up the holder for a split second, and the out-of-kilter kick went low and left.
The skies opened at halftime and the third quarter was played in a gusting downpour. Seminary lost a pair of fumbles, including one that the Jaguars took and drove to the Bulldogs’ 6-yard line as the third quarter ended.
But the Bulldogs bowed up again, and held on four downs, taking over at their own 1-yard line.
But on the first snap, Seminary could not get the ball out of the end zone, and the Jaguars took a 9-7 lead on the safety.
With the rain coming down, that score looked as if it would hold. But JDC coach Lance Mancuso said he had a bad feeling about not being able to cash in that first possession in the fourth quarter for a touchdown.
“When we didn’t get that touchdown right there, I knew it was going to come down to that,” Mancuso said. “But their kids, Coach Rials and his staff, they continued to fight though they were down for most of the fourth quarter, and they capitalized on a big play.”
That came with time dwindling and the Jaguars facing a fourth-and-8 at their own 20-yard line.
The low snap seemed to hydroplane through a pool of standing water, skimming away to the 3-yard line where the Bulldogs recovered with 2:12 left in the game.
Booth picked up 8 yards on first down, but a 6-yard sack set up a third and long. The Jaguars got 4 yards on third down, but Booth was stopped 2 yards shy on fourth down, giving the ball back to Seminary,
The Bulldogs ran all but 2 seconds off the clock, then pressured a last-gasp JDC pass into a no-chance floater and a mud-streaked, red-jerseyed celebration began.
“ I just knew our defense would make a play in the end, and they did,” Rials said. “These conditions were just awful, but one play, our guys did that, and they’ve found a way all year.”
Jefferson Davis, which finished third in Region 8-3A, had picked up a head of steam over the past four weeks. The Jaguars had closed the regular-season with a lopsided win over Wesson High School to end the regular season, opened the playoffs with one-sided victories against Forest and Velma Jackson high schools before avenging a regular-season defeat to 8-3A rival Columbia High School to reach South State.
But Friday left JDC just one step short of playing for another state championship.
“There were several times during the year that they could have folded their tent, but they just kept regrouping and finally found their groove,” Mancuso said. “It’s been a toll here running the road here lately, and maybe we just ran out of gas a little bit at the end.
“But Seminary had a lot to do with that.”