Told from Laurel’s perspective, the once old moonshine whiskey jug is back where it belongs.
After a five-year drought, Laurel (2-0) reclaimed the “Little Brown Jug” Friday night at R. H. Watkins Stadium with a 35-19 win over Hattiesburg (0-2) in the 98th edition of the longest continuously-played rivalry in Mississippi. Laurel holds the overall edge in the series, 49-45-5.
“This win feels great,” said Tornadoes head coach Todd Breland. “I’m proud for the city and this football team and school. It’s been a long time coming, and this being the 98th game in the series is pretty remarkable.”
Laurel last won the regular season meeting between the two in 2014. Hattiesburg won five straight until now.
“Hats off to Hattiesburg,” Breland added. “They made me hold my breath for the last five minutes, but we managed to close it out.”
As bad as Hattiesburg played at times and how good Laurel’s defense seemed on the field, Hattiesburg cut Laurel’s lead to two scores late in the third quarter. Anthony Bullock found Rhyen Brisco from 26-yards out at the 2:53 mark to make it 28-13.
Two possessions later, Laurel craved out a little breathing room with a 1-yard touchdown rush from quarterback Xavier Evans. The three score Laurel lead was now 35-13 with four minutes left to play.
Evans led Laurel with four touchdowns total - two through the air and two on the ground. His first touchdown, a 57-yard pass to Kiron Johnson midway through the first quarter put the Tornadoes in the drivers seat, 14-0.
“He’s our leader,” said Breland. “He’s going to be our leader every week. We expect that out of him. I hope you ask me about him every week, because if you are then that means he’s doing something pretty good.”
Kiron Benjamin also had a multi-score night. The sophomore running back ran for six from 33-yards out early in the first quarter and caught a 84-yard TD pass up the middle from Evans.
The score could have been worst for Hattiesburg and better for Laurel - and vice versa. Several would-be scores on both sides were called back due to holding, roughing the kicker, and block in the back calls. Senior Amir Smith would-have kick started Laurel’s night earlier than they did had a penalty not negated his punt return to the end zone just minutes into the contest. Smith almost scored again as the seconds faded in the first half. Intercepting a Hattiesburg hail-mary attempt deep in Laurel territory, Smith drove the ball to half-yard line of Hattiesburg before being brought down as the first-half buzzer sounded.
“I thought that interception at the end of the first half was going in,” said Breland. “I wish he could have gotten in there. He went to the locker room with cramps in both legs. It just guts man.”
Laurel had it from the beginning. Stopping the Hub City Tigers’ on their first possession without surrendering a first down, Laurel scored right out the gate when the ball belonged to them on offense.
Player of the Game:
Xavier Evans added touchdowns number three, four, five and six to his junior season Friday night, throwing two and rushing in two.
Quote of the Night:
“He’s our leader. He’s going to be our leader every week. We expect that out of him. I hope you ask me about him every week, because if you are then that means he’s doing something pretty good.” - Laurel Head Coach Todd Breland when asked about quarterback Xavier Evans.
Click here for a photo gallery of Friday night's game.