HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - On a chilly Friday evening when Hattiesburg High School's ATM— Automatic Touchdown Machine— lit up one side of the D.I. Patrick scoreboard again, it was the round figure on the other side that drew even more attention.
Not only did the Tigers toss their first shutout of the season, two first-quarter interceptions set up short-field touchdowns and senior linebacker Will Robinson returned a fumble 36 yards for a score in the third quarter as Hattiesburg roared past South Jones High School 50-0 in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs.
"It was something that the coaches talked about before we came out; somebody had to set the tone," said HHS senior safety Dexter Jordan, whose interception on the second play of the game set up the Tigers' first touchdown 90 seconds into the game.
"We had to get the game going like that to get the crowd going. That play kind of set the game up, got everybody fired up. I feel like we played really good (Friday) night."
Hattiesburg (12-0) will visit Stone High School (8-3) in a second-round game at 7 p.m. Friday in Perkinston. The Tomcats knocked off West Jones High School 24-14 Friday.
The two Region 4-5A foes met on Sept. 29 during the regular season in Hattiesburg, with the Tigers downing the Tomcats 62-27 at D.I. Patrick Stadium.
"Going down there, they're going to be fired up about another shot at us," HHS coach Tony Vance said. "They've got a lot to play for, but so do we. Winner keeps playing, loser goes home, so we've got to be sure we go 1-0 next week."
If the Tigers' defense plays like it did Friday, Hattiesburg could be tough to handle.
The Braves (8-5) managed to net just 121 yards on 55 snaps. Senior running back Ricky Boleware collected 81 tough yards rushing on 20 carries, but junior quarterback John Mitchell, who had thrown for five touchdowns the week before completed just 6-of-25 passes for 114 yards under consistent pressure with two interceptions.
"I thought we had a good week of practice, but Hattiesburg's a good team," South Jones coach Cory Reynolds said. "They're well-coached and they're going to make a good run at this thing. They'll probably be in Oxford (the site of this year's state championship games).
"They're fun to watch from the stand, but it's not fun to watch from the opposite sideline. They do a good job on offense, on defense and in the kicking game. My hat's off to them. They were the better team (Friday) night."
The night turned sour quickly for the Braves. Jordan stepped in front of Mitchell pass in front of the South Jones sideline, setting Hattiesburg up at the 20-yard line.
Three plays later, junior quarterback Jarod Conner scampered in from 10 yards and sophomore Kendyl Terrell's extra point gave Hattiesburg a 7-0 lead 89 seconds into the game.
Conner took the air on Hattiesburg's second possession. He found senior D'Andre Humbles for a 53-yard gain across the middle, then rolled right to escape pressure before hitting senior Raheem Willis with a 39-yard touchdown pass. After five offensive snaps, the Tigers had a 14-0 lead.
Late in the quarter, junior safety Tadrian Leflore intercepted Mitchell at the Braves' 38 and returned it to the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Conner leaned into a mass at the goal line, extending the football over the line to give Hattiesburg a 21-0 lead after one quarter.
South Jones threatened twice in the second quarter, but field goal attempts of 43 yards and 44 yards fell short as the Tigers took their three-touchdown lead into halftime.
Hattiesburg opened the second half at the South Jones' 44-yard line after junior Darius Ruffin returned the pooch kickoff 21 yards.
Senior Fabian Franklin, who had lost two first-half fumbles, ripped off a 20-yard run to set the Tigers up at the 24-yard line, and three plays later, Humbles ran down the seam to haul in a 27-yard touchdown pass for a 28-0 lead.
Conner's 30-yard keyed an 85-yard drive that he capped with a 39-yard scoring pass to Ruffin for a 35-0 lead with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
On South Jones' next snap, Mitchell was stripped of the football by senior outside linebacker Josh Sims and Robinson scooped up the ball and beat the pursuit to the end zone.
"I always try to be ready for that," Robinson said. "I just moved toward the ball."
On the extra point attempt, the snap was high and senior holder Raykell Ducksworth scrambled to his right, then stopped and threw back to his left, where Terrell was waiting in the front of the end zone.
She caught the ball, cradling it the numbers on her chest as the stadium and Hattiesburg sideline erupted.
Vance said he believed it was the first time in a Mississippi high school game that a female player had scored on a two-point conversion pass.
"I've never heard of it," Vance said. "I know a young lady scored (a touchdown) last year (in Laurel), but catching a pass for the conversion?"
Terrell said she was doing as she had been coached.
"I was just doing like I was taught," said Terrell, who has handled the point-after duties all season. "I'm just glad I caught it.
"They said I got tackled, but I don't remember that. I was just like, "Oh my gosh. I just caught a two-point conversion.'"
Franklin added the final points, breaking off an 89-yard run with 7:12 to play.
"I'm proud of our kids," Reynolds said. "It was a great year, and nothing to hand our heads about. I'm very proud of our seniors. It's been a great four years with them. I wished that we could have got them out of here on a better note, but I'm very, very proud of them."