Hattiesburg beats Laurel, advances to 5A State ChampionshipBy CAMAL PETRO,
HATTIESBURG – When the clock hit 0:00 and the Hattiesburg Tigers were the 5A South State Champions, head coach Tony Vance turned around to face his team and the crowd.
He held two fingers in the air, his two index fingers, and gave a fist pump before being doused by two of his players with the water cooler. Hattiesburg beat rival Laurel 33-22 Friday night, and it advances to the 5A State Championship next Saturday on the campus of Ole Miss.
“I’m so thankful for these players, this community has bought in and they excepted me and my family as their own,” Vance said. “I’m almost overcome with emotion.”
The win is the second straight win over Laurel, and it snapped a two-game losing skid in the playoffs to the Golden Tornadoes.
The game didn’t start that well for Hattiesburg. Sure, the Tigers’ defense kept Laurel out of the end zone for the entire first half, but the offense spun its wheels early.
On Hattiesburg’s first drive, which came after a fumble recovery by linebacker Josh Sims deep in Tigers’ territory, it gained one first down before punting the ball back to Laurel. A presnap penalty pushed Hattiesburg back, and it couldn’t recover.
On the next drive, two more penalties backed the offense behind the sticks, and it punted again. Finally, on the third drive of the game after Laurel converted a 28-yard field goal, Hattiesburg moved the ball 71 yards on eight plays to take a 6-3 lead after the failed 2-point conversion.
On Laurel’s 36-yard line, Hattiesburg junior quarterback Jarod “Snoop” Conner found senior D’andre Humbles over the top for a 36-yard score. The ball looked to be slightly overthrown, but Humbles was able to snag it with his out-stretched hands.
“Just mistakes and presnap penalties,” Vance said of the slow start. “We pride ourselves on not having presnap penalties, and we had several of those that put his behind the chains.”
Hattiesburg finished the night with 12 penalties for 75 yards.
Junior running back Drexlan Allen could have gotten lost in the deep Tigers’ backfield, but the junior continued his stellar season with a three-touchdown night to help push the Hattiesburg lead throughout the contest.
“I’m the smallest,” Allen said. “There’s power, speed and everything else. All of it in one bunch, and we just use it as an advantage.”
Allen’s first score came in the second quarter with his team leading 6-3. The Tigers were in the middle of a 12-play drive when Allen capped it off with a 9-yard scoring run to make it 12-6 after the failed 2-point play.
Allen finished the game with 92 rushing yards on 13 carries to go along with his three scores. He was second on the team in yardage and rushing attempts, as Conner carried the load with 29 rushes and 183 yards.
“It wasn’t just my three touchdowns,” Allen said. “It was a team effort. We just did what the coach told us to do.”
Allen’s second score came midway through the third quarter to push the lead to 20-3, as he pushed it in from the 6-yard line, then he added his final touchdown – a 1-yarder – late in the fourth quarter to put the game on ice. His final score made it a 33-16 game with 3:38 left to play.
“Drex has been solid for us all year long,” Vance said. “He’s probably one of the most underrated players on our football team. He did an excellent job tonight, and he did tonight what he’s done all year for us. When his number is called, he produces.”
Friday’s win over Laurel sets up a monster showdown next Saturday in Oxford. Hattiesburg and the West Point Green Wave are both 14-0 on the season, and the two will collide for the state championship Saturday at 7 p.m. in Vaught Hemingway Stadium.
“That’s the game you want to be at,” senior Dexter Jordan said. “It’s going to be a big crowd, there’s going to be adversity, there’s going to be some good refs and some good football players. We just have to go out there and play.”
West Point is the defending 5A State Champions and it has won 27 straight games.