WAYNESBORO, Miss. (WDAM) _ If the 2019 football season is going to be the swan song for long-time Picayune High School coach Dodd Lee, the Maroon Tide is composing quite the farewell score.
The Tide wrapped up an unbeaten regular season Friday and captured the Region 4-5A crown in the process with a 49-28 road victory over Wayne County High School in a meeting of the region’s unbeatens.
After a knockdown, don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it first half 28-28 deadlock, Picayune shut out the War Eagles in the second half to earn a No. 1 seed in the Class 5A South State playoffs.
“The second half was big because we played with the effort we’re capable of,” Lee said. “I think they understand that if we play with the effort we’re capable of, we can be really good. If we don’t, we can get beat by a lot of teams.”
Friday night’s effort produced a ground game that ran through and away from the War Eagles all night.
The Tide (11-0, 7-0) rambled for 550 yards rushing, with senior Cameron Thomas picking up 260 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
“I think this touched the team,” Thomas said. “We faced adversity (Friday) and we came through.”
A perfect example: Leading 14-13 after a 52-yard run by senior quarterback Zhakerreun Wesley in the second quarter, Wayne County scored on a 50-yard fumble return by sophomore strong safety Bakarri McCall to grab an eight-point lead.
After the kickoff on Picayune’s first snap, Thomas found a crease on the right side, shook off a defender at his ankles and then turned on the jets, sprinting down the sideline for an 82-yard touchdown. Junior Austin Samples added a 2-point conversion run.
Wayne County (8-3, 6-1 region) went back up, 28-21, on a 29-yard touchdown run by junior Shadamien Williamson with about 2 ½ minutes left in the second quarter.
But Picayune answered. Thomas broke free for 65 yards, down to the Wayne County 4-yard line, setting up first-and-goal.
The War Eagles denied the Tide the end zone on three plays, but senior wingback Jalen Hall came across the formation and found a seam to punch in a 1-yard touchdown run with 6 seconds left in the first half.
The first half was an offensive banquet, with the teams combining for 56 points and 597 yards, all on the ground.
The second half was all Picayune.
Thomas scored on a 3-yard run to cap the Tide’s first possession of the second half, and after an interception by senior linebacker Kade Turnage set up Picayune at the War Eagles’ 25-yard line, junior quarterback Isaac Hickman followed the line surge for a 2-yard touchdown and a 42-28 lead.
Wesley, who rushed for 137 yards with scoring runs of 74 yards and 52 yards, went out of the game late in the third quarter with a leg injury, and with him went the War Eagles’ realistic hopes of a comeback.
After an interception by Picayune senior cornerback Leonard Taylor, Picayune capped the scoring with its second, 4th-and-goal touchdown of the game, a 4-yard pass from Hickman to Turnage.
“We get a couple crucial stops, and it’s a different football game.” Wayne County coach Shelton Gandy said. “But my hat’s off to them. They’re a good football team.”
Samples, who opened the game’s scoring with a 45-yard touchdown run, finished with 161 yards on 17 carries.
Turnage, who popped runs of 41 yards and 43 yards to set up Picayune’s final score, added 88 yards on four carries.
Hickman, the Tide’s backup quarterback, played well in relief. He completed 4-of-7 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown and ran for 27 yards and two scores.
“He did a great job for us,” Lee said. “I knew the kids were going to play for him because he paid the price.”
Both Picayune and Wayne County will host opening-round playoff games after finishing one-two in the region.
The Tide will welcome Brookhaven High School at 7 p.m. Friday. The Panthers (5-6) finished as the fourth seed in Region 3-5A after s 28-21 loss to Forest Hill High School Friday.
The War Eagles will host Forest Hill at 7 p.m. Friday. The Patriots (5-7) grabbed the third seed in Region 3-5A with a 28-21 win over Brookhaven.