Poplarville visits Purvis in playoff rematch

Poplarville visits Purvis in playoff rematch
Source: WDAM

PURVIS, MS (WDAM) - Pressure can do many things.

Pressure can make diamonds.

Pressure can tear things apart.

We applaud grace under pressure, the exquisite performance under the gun. We extol those who seemingly ignore it, shoulder it, can cope with it, or better yet, excel despite it.

Pressure makes for intrigue in the Friday night Region 7-4A rematch between Poplarville and Purvis high schools in a semifinal of the South State Class 4A playoffs.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Purvis.

Both have handled two previous weeks of playoff pressure to arrive at this point.

The Hornets (12-0) taking down Northeast Lauderdale High School 42-27 at home and St. Stanislaus 42-31 on the road and the Tornadoes turning road warriors with away wins at Mendenhall 42-41 in overtime and at Florence 41-21.

"We had two pretty good trips, but we're glad to be back home," Purvis coach Perry Wheat said.

Poplarville has handled pressure all season, first of preseason expectations that suggested the defending Class 4A South State champions were poised for another deep playoff run, then of perfection, as the 2017 Hornets became the first Poplarville swarm to go through the regular season undefeated since 1972.

Expectations can be tricky, perfection incredibly difficult.

"The 12-0 season, you know, sometimes you feel like if you don't go all the way, people will be disappointed," Poplarville coach Jay Beech said. "So, there's pressure to not lose, a pressure to play well, but in football, if you can't play well under pressure, then this isn't the game for you."

The Hornets have dealt with any pressure by simply overwhelming opposition with an overpowering ground game that has averaged 408.8 yards a game.

Senior Austin Bolton has dipped, darted and dashed for 1,906 yards and 27 touchdowns. In 12 games, he has cracked the 100-yard mark 10 times.

Sophomore Cody Knight has assumed starting duties at fullback after senior Roosevelt Raine was moved to defensive end full-time after two ends were injured in the same game.

Knight has rushed for 710 yards and 13 scores, while Raine has run for 806 yards and six touchdowns this season.

"(Bolton and Knight), they do well together back there," Beech said.

Junior Tyson Holston has run for 714 yards and seven touchdowns and ranks as one of the Hornets' top two receivers with 16 catches for 243 yards and a score.

One of those on the receiving end of the offensive onslaught was Purvis (6-6), which hung with Poplarville for about a half before three turnovers on the short end of the field accelerated a 69-34 Hornets' victory on Oct 20.

"We made some plays (in that game)," Wheat said. "But we also had three turnovers inside our 30 (-yard line) that got the game out of hand in the third quarter.

"They have an outstanding team, there's no doubt about that. That's why they're undefeated. We will have to have our best football game of the year to have a chance to beat them. It'll be a tremendous challenge for us, but we're just glad to have the chance to play 'em."

Purvis has been playing with house money the past few weeks. After sliding into the fourth playoff spot out of Region 7-4A, the Tornadoes have played loose, and taken down two higher seeds on the road to make their deepest playoff excursion since 2014.

"We're just playing better," Wheat said. "To me, they're just starting to have fun playing and they played hard. We had some mistakes, of course, but they've played their tails off.

"Really, wasn't a lot of pressure on them. They played hard and had fun and made some plays. I'm just real proud of them, the way they've stepped up."

Senior quarterback Ty Howell has thrown for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions and has rushed for 874 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior running back John Bolton has run for 1,438 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Senior receiver C.J. Bolar has caught 41 passes for 811 yards and 10 scores while sophomore Jesse Johnson has 28 catches for 513 yards and five touchdowns.

Beech said he was a little leery of meeting the same team again.

"It's my first experience of playing some twice in the same year, so I guess I'll be able to tell you better after the game," Beech said. "I sure wish we weren't playing them again.

"I don't know if it helps or hurts The winning team might feel good about their game plan because they won the last time, while the losing team might make a bunch of adjustments. So, what might have worked for you in the first game might not be good the second time."

Poplarville and Purvis will find out Friday night, when the lights come on and the pressure mounts.