WAYNE COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - For the past six weeks, the Laurel High School football team's high-flying offense had taken center stage, averaging right around 50 points a game in Region 3-5A play.
On Friday night against Wayne County High School, the Golden Tornadoes' defense took a major bow, bowing up in the first half until its counterpart hit stride in the second, as Laurel ran away to a 41-7 victory over the War Eagles.
"You talk about being in a bind in the first half," Laurel coach Todd Breland said. "They kept us in the football game. They gave us a chance to win (Friday night). Playing on a short field, and only letting them in the end zone one time, I thought that was fantastic."
Laurel's defense came up with three takeaways, two fumble recoveries and an interception, inside its 15-yard line, holding Wayne County off the scoreboard until surrendering a touchdown just before halftime.
Then, after Laurel's defense seized back any momentum by forcing a War Eagles punt on the first possession of the second half, its offense roared to life as the Tornadoes logged their ninth, consecutive victory.
By winning Friday's clash of region's unbeatens, Laurel (10-1) won the 3-5A championship, and as the region's top seed, will host Stone High School (8-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The Tomcats dropped a 49-33 decision at Hattiesburg High School, and fell to fourth seed in Region 4-5A.
Wayne County (6-5), which saw a six-game winning streak snapped, was 5-3A's second seed, and will host Pascagoula High School at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Panthers (6-5) outlasted Gautier High School 37-31 Friday. Pascagoula ended up in a tie for third in 4-5A with Stone, but earned the region's third seed because it had beaten the Tomcats during the regular season.
Wayne County coach Todd Mangum said the early mistakes were critical.
"We turned the ball over," Mangum said. "Too many turnovers. We shot ourselves in the foot. Too many turnovers, and you can't do that against a good football team. But hats off to them."
Laurel took the opening drive of the game and scored on Michael Terrell's 4-yard run for a 7-0 lead, but on its next possession, fumbled away the football to the War Eagles at the Tornadoes' 37-yard line.
But two plays later, Wayne County running back Chris Cooley was stripped, with the ball being recovered at the 13.
The Tornadoes took advantage, with Tyquan Ulmer capping a 77-yard drive with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Je'vah Jones for a14-0 lead.
The teams exchanged turnovers, with the War Eagles losing a fumble at the Tornadoes 2-yard line, but Ulmer threw an interception to set up Wayne County at the Laurel 29-yard line.
But the opportunity ended when quarterback Zabryan Jackson was intercepted at the 1-yard line.
The War Eagles finally got on the board with 32.3 seconds before halftime when Cooley was able to fall on his own fumble in the end zone.
But the second half was all Tornadoes.
Ulmer threw touchdown passes of 9 yards and 14 yards to Dontario Drummond, Terrell added a 2-yard scoring run and Drummond capped the scoring with a 53-yard punt return.
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