HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - In a fall already defined by a fistful of firsts, Presbyterian Christian High School will play the most important football game in its history Friday night.
PCS, perfect this deep into a season for the first time, will put its hopes and aspirations on the line in a semifinal playoff showdown against a team it never had defeated until this year, the four-time defending MAIS AAAA-Division I state champion, Jackson Preparatory School.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., and the winner between the Bobcats (11-0) and Patriots (11-1) will earn a spot in the state title game.
"I don't think there's a doubt about it, it's the biggest game, no question," PCS coach Joey Hawkins said.
Hawkins said the school was expecting some 2,000, including two or three busloads of Prep fans from Jackson and that extra seating has been secured.
"If it's 2,000 people, at our place, it's going to look like 5,000 people," Hawkins said. "It's going to be wall-to-wall. I've never seen, in my being here eight years, so many people say they're coming to the game. I'm talking about hundreds and this will be the first time seeing PCS playing. So, it's going to be good for the community."
The teams met in Jackson on Oct. 14, with the Bobcats coming away with a 28-16 victory over the Patriots.
That win secured a first-round playoff bye for PCS, while Prep played in last week's AAAA opening round, where it took down Jackson Academy 32-7 to set up the rematch.
"The first one was for the (division) championship, and that would have good to stay home and play at home," Prep coach Ricky Black said. "Of course, this one, you've got to move one. You continue to play or your season's over. So, both games have been big, and we didn't handle the first one very well and they did an excellent job. We need to play better this time."
PCS will rely on a running game that has amassed nearly 3,400 yards rushing and scored 46 touchdowns.
Senior Isaiah Woullard has accounted for the bulk of the gains on the ground, rushing for 2,495 yards and 35 touchdowns on 271 carries. The next most productive backs have been Rush Stewart, who has run for 296 yards and five touchdowns on 39 carries, and Sheldon James with 267 yards and two scores on 23 carries.
Quarterback Luke Hudson, who has run for five scores, has thrown for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns with five interceptions. Stewart has grabbed 10 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns, while Nicholas Martin (286 yards, one touchdown) and Brandon Thornton (273 yards, four touchdowns) have 15 catches apiece.
Prep has been more balanced offensively, rushing and throwing for more than 1,800 yards this season.
The one-two backfield punch of Jerrion Ealy and Jacob Crawley have combined for 1,585 yards and 26 touchdowns rushing and 700 yards and 11 touchdowns receiving.
Ealy has accounted for 21 touchdowns, rushing for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns and catching 28 passes for 479 yards and nine more scores. Crawley has run for 775 yards and 14 touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Chance Lovertich has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,648 yards and 24 touchdowns with no interceptions. Tate Fowler has caught 17 passes for 330 yards and five scores, while Peyton Greenwood has 12 catches for 246 yards and five touchdowns.
Hawkins said Prep has tweaked its offense down the stretch run, setting Ealy more in the backfield.
"They were more spread team the first time we played them, and they're still going to mix things up and do a lot of formations," Hawkins said. "But they're going to try and get their identity out of two (tight ends) and come downfield on you (running the football)."
Black said he expects both teams will have worked in new wrinkles for the game.
"You're going to do a few things different on defense and a few things different on offense, but you're going to wind up in the game doing 85 percent to 90 percent what you did during the season is going to be in the game plan," Black said. "I think you'll see very similar plays."
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