POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River coach Seth Smith has waited for weeks for the Wildcats’ offense and defense to show up on the same day. He’s waited even longer for his first collegiate win.

On Thursday he got to experience both as PRCC put in a complete effort to turn away visiting East Central 28-21 at Dobie Holden Stadium.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock Thursday, a crowd gathered around Smith, who was watching his Wildcats kneel out their first victory of 2020.

Soon, a blue Powerade bucket broke through the line and doused the Sones Chapel native, sending the head Wildcat sprinting and shouting down the sideline, to the delight of his players and fans.

“You’re getting me a little emotional on that one,” Smith said, asked about the win’s magnitude. “As a coach all you do is hoot and holler, but the kids do it. Give them the credit for listening and believing in us and going out and executing.”

The feeling is mutual.

“That’s a guy who loves his players, loves this program and will do anything for us,” said quarterback Jakob Greer (Bay St. Louis; St. Stanislaus).

COMING UP BIG

Pearl River held a 28-14 lead heading into the final frame, but ECCC scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to pull within one score. After both teams traded punts, the Wildcats pieced together a lengthy 12-play, 42-yard drive that chewed up more than five minutes of clock. PRCC’s ensuing 43-yard field goal was blocked, setting up the Warriors just across midfield at their own 46 yard line.

The prime positioning didn’t last long, however, as none other than Noah Mitchell (Leakesville; Greene County) broke through for a massive sack to set up a third-and-26 from their own 30. ECCC dialed up a hook-and-ladder two plays later, but the Wildcats snuffed it out to secure the win and set off the ice bath along the sideline.

“I knew we weren’t going to sit back in that situation,” Pearl River defensive coordinator Ty Trahan said on ECCC’s final drive. “I’ve seen too many teams sit back, play safe and get picked apart. We were just going to make sure that we covered (receiver John) Hilbert. That’s the only time I called a blitz the whole night and it worked.”

TAKING THE LEAD

Tied 14-14 going into halftime, the Wildcats (2-1 overall) wasted no time re-taking the lead. Three plays into the third quarter, Austin Davidson (Meridian; West Lauderdale) launched a pass down the ECCC (1-2 overall) sideline. Double covered, Stetson Moore (Philadelphia) caught the pass and broke free for a 71-yard go-ahead touchdown.

Following two ECCC punts, the Wildcats doubled up the Warriors on a 41-yard pass-and-catch from Greer to Tavion Smith (Oak Grove). Greer saw Smith in single coverage along the left side and the freshman receiver high-pointed the ball. After coming down with it, Smith made a swim move on a charging safety and ran into the end zone to complete the lengthy score and give PRCC a 28-14 advantage.

“When I saw the second guy coming and I had to throw him off me” Smith said, reminiscing about his first collegiate touchdown. “I was like ‘ain’t no way I’m going to let this touchdown go.’”

The score was a direct result of how the Wildcats practice and the energy the new staff brings to the fieldhouse daily.

“Coach Smith always emphasizes effort; give us your best effort,” he said. “That’s why I caught that pass.”

FIRST HALF

ECCC took an early 7-0 lead but the Wildcats immediately responded, piecing together a nine-play, 76-yard drive that chewed up nearly five minutes of clock.

Facing second-and-10 at their own 36, Greer flipped a screen pass to running back Will Young (Hurley; East Central) for a 22-yard gain. Three plays later, Greer hit Latreal Jones (Taylorsville) on a post route over the middle for a 41-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7.

“‘Frog’ is really an ironic name because he moves a heck of a lot faster and he has big hands. We may need to change his name to ‘cheetah.’ He can really run,” Smith said. “That was (offensive coordinator David) Chatham’s call. I don’t always have the courage to throw it over the middle, but he saw it and he called it and it worked.”

The Wildcats didn’t let up as Mitchell picked off his second pass in as many weeks on ECCC’s next play from scrimmage.

Following a tough 19-yard run up the middle from Nick Milsap (Raleigh; Oak Grove), the freshman running back followed it up with an 8-yard run touchdown run to give PRCC a 14-7 lead with 3:08 remaining in the first quarter.

Pearl River and East Central traded field possession for much of the second quarter until the Warriors tied the game 14-14 with 4:42 remaining in the half.

STINGY ON DEFENSE

Pearl River’s defense only ended up with one turnover — Mitchell’s interception — but Trahan’s unit held East Central to just 75 yards passing and 151 yards rushing.

“I’m always going to see negatives, but there are so many positives from tonight. The guys just keep playing, play after play, with relentless effort,” Trahan said. “We took a little while to adjust to some of the stuff they’re doing; they’re a well-coached team that shows you a lot of formations. Once we got it all corrected, we were good to go. I can’t be more proud of my guys.”

Added Smith: “We need to feed coach Trahan, (Lorenzo) Breland, (Ta’Ron) Sims and our young coach, Coach (Cade) Caldwell. I’ve got to give those four guys credit. They bring it every week. That’s why we are having a little success. They are keeping us in games and if we can catch up to our offense hopefully, we can get better.”

OFFENSIVE LEADERS

Greer had a career day for PRCC as Thursday marked the first time he had thrown for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 44 yards.

“This means a lot,” Greer said of the win. “Look at it last year, we lose at East Central 35-0. To close it out and win, it feels great.”

Seven different receivers caught passes Thursday. Jones finished with five catches for 70 yards; Moore had two receptions for 75.

On the ground, PRCC had a successful committee approach as four different Wildcats rushed for at least 40. Llanes Dickerson (Gulfport; West Harrison) led PRCC with 52 yards on eight carries. Davidson added 51. Milsap and Greer rounded out the leaders with 49 and 44 yards respectively.

NEXT UP

The Wildcats have a bye next week before visiting Jones College on Oct. 29. PRCC will play at Dobie Holden Stadium for the final time in 2020 on Nov. 5 when the Wildcats host Southwest for homecoming. Kickoff against the Bears is scheduled for 7 p.m.

PRCC will conclude its season Nov. 12 at Hinds.

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