HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - For the second consecutive year, Presbyterian Christian School and West Marion High School opened a football season by going at one another tooth and nail for the better part of two-and-a-half quarters.
And, for the second consecutive season, the Bobcats eventually wore down the Trojans over the last 18 minutes of the game, as PCS pulled away Thursday night for a 38-18 victory.
"It was like last year," West Marion coach Brad Duncan said. "The first half, we play hard, it's a close ballgame, and then in the second half, they just wear us out."
Behind a veteran offensive line, the Bobcats unleashed a ground game that, at first, popped big plays on the West Marion defense before eventually just steadily grinding consistent chunks out of the Trojans and the game clock.
"We played 29 players out of 38 in the first half, and that was the difference," PCS coach Joey Hawkins said. "We were trying to rope-a-day, stay in the game, and then try and be fresher with about six minutes to go in the third (quarter), and we were.
"Everything works sometimes. Sometimes I outsmart myself and my plans backfire, but (Thursday), everything went about according to everything. We took care of the football (even) with a bunch of new guys running the ball."
Senior Sheldon James had 98 yards on eight carries in the first half alone, including a 53-yard touchdown run. He busted touchdown runs of 75 yards and 4 yards in the second half as the Bobcats rolled on the ground.
"I've been working really hard, but this offensive line, I'm telling you, they're incredible," said James, who carried only 51 times last season playing behind Mississippi's all-time prep rusher Isaiah Woullard.
Duncan, who had a little postgame heart-to-heart with his young crew behind closed locker room doors, said the difference was the Bobcats' bunch up front on offense.
"When we left this thing last year, we said, 'They're better than I thought up front,'" Duncan said. "Now, he's got all of them back, and maybe one or two extras and they can run the football.
"I mean, we would stop them, we would stop them, and then we'd give up the big play. But they are good up there."
The teams traded touchdowns on each of the first four possessions of the game.
PCS junior quarterback Brandon Thornton threw a 20-yard jump ball that sophomore receiver Eric Robinson corralled in the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
West Marion answered, as new quarterback, sophomore Jeremiah Holmes, led the Trojans on an 80-yard drive that he capped with a 9-yard run. A pass for two points failed, leaving West Marion behind 7-6.
The Bobcats made it 14-6 after one quarter when James shot over left guard on a 53-yard touchdown, but Cyrus Thompson got West Marion within 14-12 at the half when he broke a receiver screen 31 yards less than a minute into the second quarter.
Senior O'Neill Walters 35-yard field goal capped a 70-yard drive that was kept alive by senior Jack Runnells' 16-yard pass to junior tight end Tyson Keys on a fake punt and gave the Bobcats a17-12 lead with about 4 minutes to play in the third quarter.
West Marion drove the ball out toward midfield, but lost a fumble near its own sideline, setting up the Bobcats on a short field.
"If they don't make a turnover, they're on their plus side, and we've got a ballgame, 17-12," Hawkins said. "That was the play of the game, the turnover on the sidelines."
PCS took advantage, with junior Alden Rhian breaking a 38-yard scoring run for a 24-12 Bobcat lead after three quarters.
After a 25-yard sack pinned West Marion near its own goal line, Robinson's 25-yard punt return set up another short drive for PCS. James capped the 22-yard scoring drive with a 4-yard run and a 31-12 PCS lead with 8:56 left to play.
But 10 seconds later, Holmes found Noland Miller Jr. down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown that brought the Trojans back within 31-18.
But four plays later, James broke a run similar to his first-quarter burst, this time zipping 75 yards for the final points of the game.