Johnson, defense stifles Laurel

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Letrelle Johnson is a senior defensive end/linebacker for the Hattiesburg Tigers who blocks onrushing defenders on extra-point kicks. The 6-foot, 245-pounder can push back as well as he can chase down quarterbacks or stand up running backs.

Friday night, as his team was adding its 14th victory against no losses in bouncing Laurel 33-22 for the 5A South State title, Johnson had only his second chance to score points. This time after a bad snap, the pass was tipped at least twice by Laurel defenders. By the time the pass got to Johnson he was on his back.

However, he caught the two-point conversion in the third quarter, putting the Tigers ahead 20-3 with 7:33 to play in that stanza.

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“It was a bad snap on the kick,” he said. “He called the word and I had to go on and make the play. If I didn’t make that play, we would not have scored. We ran that play once before, but I missed the pass.”

This time, Johnson concentrated extra hard to pull down the conversion. Hattiesburg head football coach Tony Vance said the play was important.

“(Letrelle) came through and made the play when we needed it,” he said. “That was a big play.”

The two-point reception was merely the icing on the cake for Johnson’s performance Friday night. His defensive play made a big difference stopping the Golden Tornadoes’ momentum.

In the first quarter of the scoreless game, Laurel running Zias Perryman – who amassed 178 yards on 19 carries – got the ball at the Hattiesburg 10-yard line on third down. Because Johnson dragged Perryman for a six-yard loss, the Golden Tornadoes were forced to go for the field goal.

With a third-and-5 situation in the second quarter, Johnson stopped Laurel runner Michael Terrell 2 yards behind the line and forced a punt.

Johnson said he and his Tigers were ready for Laurel.

“It was all about preparation,” he said. “We prepared before the game and we saw it all the game. When I saw it, I attacked. When I attacked, stuff happened.”

Vance said Johnson has been a standout on defense recently.

“The last two weeks, he has taken his game to a whole other level,” he said. “He has played outstanding for us really the last month of the season. He has gotten better all year. He has continued to improve and get better the entire year, but for the last two weeks, he has been outstanding for us.”

Johnson said the team has worked together in a certain way that has led the Tigers to the 14-0 record heading into next Saturday’s state championship game against West Point in Oxford.

“One word: Family,” he said. “We come together as a family and when we come together, we win.”

Vance agreed.

“We are (a family),” he said. “That’s what we built our program on, family first. Those guys did a great job (in the Friday victory). The offense and defense stepped up and did what to do.”