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By RUSSELL TURNER / Dispatch Editor
The Perry Central Bulldogs tore up the field, literally and figuratively, last Friday night as they defeated visiting Richton for Perry County bragging rights in the season opener for both teams.
It was an important game for a lot of reasons, but both teams now turn their attention to an even bigger priority, earning a spot in the MHSAA Playoffs later this fall. And, while there are still a few weeks remaining before either team jumps headfirst into region play, they each face important steps in the process this Friday when the Bulldogs travel to Enterprise-Clarke and the Rebels hit the road to take on the Pisgah Dragons.
Perry Central’s opponent in week two, the Bulldogs from Clarke County, ran roughshod over Lake last Friday in the season opener for both teams. Enterprise jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised to a 31-0 win.
The Bulldogs put up 343 yards of total offense with 303 of that coming via their running game. Junior Zykarius Sims (#1) led the Bulldog offense. Sims averaged just under 20 yards per carry and finished with 139 yards and two rushing touchdowns on just seven carries. He also had a 26-yard TD reception.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were led by senior linebacker Nathan Bailey (#55), who finished with eight tackles and a sack against Lake. Others to watch on the Enterprise defense are senior cornerback Cameron Wheat (#5) and junior linebacker Clark Gaylean (#2), who each finished with five stops in the opener.
It will be a solid test for Perry Central.
“Enterprise has a really physical team,” Cluff said. “They are much like us in the fact that they are a ball-control offense, so we are going to have to go on the road and play good defense to come away with a win.”
Bulldog fans going to the game will find the field behind the school at 501 River Road, Enterprise, MS 39330.
Richton will be back on the road this week, traveling to Sandhill northeast of Ridgeland, for their matchup with the Class 2A Dragons. The Dragons. Pisgah’s team will be in search of its first win as well after dropping a 17-7 decision to Bogue Chitto at home last week. An experienced team with 12 seniors and nine juniors on the roster, Pisgah actuall won the statistical battle in the loss, edging the Bobcats in total yards (248-to-235), rushing yards (109-fo-101), passing yards (139-to-134). They also forced more turnovers (3) than the visitors (2).
Junior quarterback Aiden Swales (#12) is the top Dragon on both sides of the ball. As the Pisgah quarterback, Swales completed 7-of-18 passes for 109 yards, but didn’t throw a TD and gave up two interceptions. He was also his team’s leading tackler from his middle linebacker position with 12 stops on the night.
Three different Pisgah players accounted for almost all of their rushing yards. Senior Colton Coleman (#22) carried the ball 12 times and finished with 49 yards and his team’s lone trip into the endzone. Senior Braxton Brown (#11) had six carries for 41 yards, while senior Matori Taylor carried three times for 35 yards.
Defensively, senior safety Riley Sanders (#15) and sophomore outside linebacker Jon Irby (#40) join Swales as statistical leaders. Sanders finished last Friday’s loss with 12 tackles and one his team’s three interceptions. Irby ended the night with seven stops to his credit.
Rice says he expects Pisgah to have a solid team with a strong running game, but is excited to see how his team bounces back after the loss at New Augusta.
“Pisgah always has a good team, so we know we will need to play well,” Rice said last Friday after the game. “It’s another opportunity for us. We’ve got a lot to clean up and I take full responsibility for that. We will look at the game film and see what we can improve on and go from there.”
“We’ve got a lot of young guys at key positions. They got some good experience under their belts tonight and we will build on that.”
Fans going to the game should get their best directions to in 115 Pisgah High Road, Brandon, MS 39047 and settle in for a roughly two hour and 15 minute ride.
A look back at last Friday’s matchup …
Richton came into last week’s matchup with a little momentum after whipping up on St. Patrick in jamboree action the previous Friday. But, the Bulldogs, who did not play a jamboree game, got a big boost on the opening kickoff when junior Brian Scoggins scooped up a short kick, made the first Rebel defender miss, and carried the mud-covered ball 60 yards for a TD. The PAT failed but PCHS had a 6-0 lead with 11:46 to play in the first quarter and really never looked back.
“Brian did a good job of fielding that kick and just making something happen,” Perry Central Head Coach Craig Cluff said after the game. “We tell them all the time that players make plays and he made a big one for us.”
A nice crowd turned out for the game as the skies cleared after several days of nearly non-stop rain. Field conditions were an issue as days of heavy downpours left standing water in many places on the field and a soggy mess elsewhere. However, the field held up better than many expected, and both coaches downplayed the impact the muddy conditions played on the outcome.
“We went out Monday in the mud, went out Tuesday in the mud and we told the kids we knew the situation we would be playing in and we were just going to have to embrace the situation and get after it,” Cluff said. “They did a really good job with that.”
“We are really big up front on both sides of the ball. That is one of our strengths and we want to play to that. Our kids did really well tonight. We ran the ball hard and played with good energy and I am proud of them.”
Richton Head Coach Stephen Rice said his team did struggle some with their footing due to the field conditions, but added that he wasn’t allowing that to be an excuse for his team as “both teams played in the same conditions.”
“Their big boys didn’t have any better ground to push off of than we did,” Rice said. “The bottom line is that their running backs ran the ball hard and we did not do a great job executing our game plan on either side of the ball.”
“I thought we had a good gameplan, but we struggled with some things and made some mistakes, particularly early. The opening kickoff did not help. We hung around with them for a little while, maybe a quarter and a half, but then we gave up some plays.”
Richton did struggle on special teams, giving up the TD on the opening kickoff, and then giving the Bulldogs great field position all game long due to struggles in the punting game, particularly with getting snaps back to the kicker.
After a 3-and-out first possession the punting situation allowed PCHS to take over at the Richton 40 yard-line. Senior running back Emery Hartfield converted a fourth down with a 4-yard run and finished the drive with a the first of this three rushing touchdowns with another 4-yard plunge. Sophomore Austin Jones ran in the 2-point-conversion to put the Bulldogs ahead 14-0 with 6:11 left in the first quarter.
Richton answered with a strong drive of its own. Sophomore quarterback Dakota Amos scored on a 3-yard run on 4th-and-goal-to-go to make the score 14-6 with just over three minutes left in the opening quarter. The 2-point-conversion failed and the 8-point deficit was as close as the Rebels would get.
The Rebels had their chances as the defense came up with turnovers on each of the Bulldogs’ next possessions. But, neither possession paid off with points. Perry Central effectively put the game away midway through the second quarter when Hartfield broke loose for a long TD run to extend the lead. Rebels fans didn’t like the touchdown call as they felt Hartfield fumbled before crossing the goal line, but the officials ruled otherwise. Senior Hannah Parker’s extra-point kick ignited the home crowd and put PCHS ahead 21-6.
Hartfield scored his third TD of the game 59 seconds before halftime and with Parker’s PAT the Bulldogs carried a 28-6 lead into intermission.
The PCHS defense pinned its ears back in the second half and the pressure caused problems for Richton. Short possessions and problems with the punting game led to easy scores for the Bulldogs. DeJohn Johnson scored on a 2-yard run with 7:45 remaining in the third quarter to push the lead to 34-6. Johnson added a 1-yard TD three minutes later to put PCHS ahead 40-6.
A big hustle play by sophomore Kayden Griffen resulted in the recovery of a bad nap to Amos at the Richton 4-yard line. Johnson scored from their two plays later to give the home team a commanding 46-6 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Rebels answered with a quick scoring drive to close the gap to 46-12. Junior Josh Sumrall scored the TD on a 2-yard run with 11 minutes left to play.
Richton added another score with just over seven minutes remaining when Amos connected with senior Seth Mills on a long TD pass. Sumrall ran in the 2-point-conversion to cap the scoring at 46-20.
Individual offensive stats were not available for Richton. For Perry Central, Hartfield led the way with 16 carries for 132 yards and three TDs. Johnson finished with 101 yards on 12 carries (three TDs) and Jones added 75 yards rushing on eight carries.