HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Unbeaten Hattiesburg High School won Thursday night its first region football championship in nearly two decades with a 48-19 Region 4-5A victory over Long Beach High School at D.I. Patrick Stadium.
But the Tigers insist they still have plenty of other goals ahead of them.
"It's real fun, but we still have a lot of work to do," said senior safety Dexter Jordan, whose interception return in the second quarter swung momentum Hattiesburg's way. "You don't want to come this far and lose
"We've got to work hard and not take anyone lightly."
The Tigers (10-0, 6-0 Region 4-5A) have one regular-season game left, a trip to Gulfport to take on West Harrison High School. The Hurricanes (1-8, 0-5) face Wayne County High School at 7 p.m. Friday in Waynesboro.
But Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said the Tigers have not broached the subject about putting the finishing touches on a perfect regular season.
"We haven't even talked about it," Vance said. "We try to go 1-0 every week, and that's what we did (Thursday night)."
The game was moved up a day with inclement and cold weather expected Friday night and Hattiesburg got off to a slow start.
The Bearcats (6-4, 3-3) jumped on the Tigers 16 seconds into the game when sophomore quarterback Cade Crosby found senior receiver Tony Young with a 65-yard touchdown pass on the game's first play for a 7-0 lead.
The Tigers answered. Junior quarterback Jarod Conner hit senior receiver D'Andre Humbles with a 63-yard pass to the 9-yard line and senior running back Fabian Franklin scored from there to get Hattiesburg within 7-6.
But Crosby connected with junior Logan Matherne on two big passes, the first a 31-yarder to the Hattiesburg 46-yard line and then again to Matherne for the touchdown and a 13-7 lead.
But a bad snap resulted in a 1-yard Long Beach, setting Hattiesburg up on the Bearcats' 24-yard line. Conner scored on the next play and then ran in the two-point conversion to give the Tigers a 14-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"I don't know, just a lack of execution, a lack of focus," Vance said. "It took some settling down.
"But I'm proud of them. The defense settled down, answered with two defensive touchdowns in the first half to give us some momentum and give our offense some time to get going a little bit."
The game shifted completely in the second quarter.
A Hattiesburg drive stalled at the Long Beach 19, turning the ball over to the Bearcats on downs. But on first down, Jordan slashed through a gap, and stepped in front of a shovel pass. He never broke stride on a 16-yard interception for a touchdown that put Hattiesburg up 21-13.
"We watched that play on film a lot," Jordan said. "That was the play I was looking for, that little pitch back inside. That's been a popular play. I saw the ball going in and just used my reaction to pick the ball off.
"We had to get some momentum on defense. We came out asleep. This is a Thursday and we had a change of plans, but we had to adapt. We needed a spark, and that play right there was a spark."
On the kickoff, a block-in-the-back penalty pushed the Bearcats to their own 7-yard line, and on first down, Crosby nearly was sacked in the end zone and tried to throw the ball away. Instead, the ball looped into the air and into arms of senior outside linebacker Josh Sims, who returned the ball 8 yards to the Long Beach 7-yard line.
Humbles, who split time at quarterback with Conner moving to running back in some sets, raced around end from the 1-yard line two plays later to put Hattiesburg ahead 28-13 with 5:39 to play before halftime.
The Tigers weren't through.
Long Beach drove the ball to the Hattiesburg 36, where Crosby tossed a screen to sophomore running back Kobe Cook, who was filling in for the Bearcats' 1,400-yard rusher, junior Dennis Andrews, who did not play Thursday.
Cook tried to go wide, but was hit hard for an 11-yard loss and lost the football. Senior outside linebacker Will Robinson scooped up the loose ball at the Long Beach 48-yard line and went down the sideline for a 35-13 Hattiesburg lead.
"Three turnovers, two interceptions, with the pick six and the scoop and score," Long Beach coach Forrest Williams said. "I was really proud of the way our guys came out, but Hattiesburg's a really good team and you can't hand them 21 points off turnovers like that.
"Hats off to Coach Vance and the region champs. That's a very good team, and I can't wait to see what they do in the playoffs. If we can take care of our business, we'd love to see them again."
Hattiesburg scored on the opening possession of the second half on an 11-yard run by Franklin. Crosby threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Young, but Hattiesburg finished the scoring on a 20-yard run by junior Drexlan Allen.
"It's the first time in a long time," Vance said of the Tigers' first region crown since 1998. "It's the first time we've been able to do it at home in front of our home crowd.
"We had a great crowd for Senior Night on a Thursday night, so much appreciation to our fans for coming out (Thursday night) and supporting us."