Sylva Bay Academy made a long trip to face a historically dominant team, Centreville Academy, which sits just a few miles away from the state of Louisiana. Centreville's led by the winningest coach in Mississippi history, Bill Hurst.
It was a redemption game for the Saints. In triple overtime last season, the Tigers robbed the Saints from playing in the state championship.
Head coach Terry Underwood and his stingy Saints' defense were happy to return the favor with a 28-14 victory.
"I'm just overjoyed," said Underwood. "It's been a rough go to this point. We knew this game was very meaningful. Putting ourselves in a position to play for another district championship, I say kudos to our kids for battling and finding a way to win.”
The Saints offense was on fire, at least for the first half. Ty Crosby led all scorers with three touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
River Thomas hit tight end Campbell Graves for a 13-yard TD in the first quarter, but for both teams, ball security was sloppy - along with all-to-common third quarter meltdowns. More on that later.
There were a total of 14 turnovers, eight by Sylva-Bay and six by Centreville. There was a turnover twice in one play. Centreville intercepted Thomas when Campbell Graves jarred the ball lose into the hands of fullback Hunter Sykes, who rumbled down to the nine-yard line to set up a Saints' touchdown.
Sylva Bay kept the trend alive with more sloppy play in the third quarter. The Saints started the quarter with a snap over the punter's head, which resulted in a safety for Centreville. That made the score 28-2 with 3:57 left in the quarter. Less than a minute later, Centreville tacked on a 41-yard touchdown, and the meltdown was on. Thomas fumbled at the 3:40 mark in the third quarter. The Tigers capitalized once again with another eight points to end all scoring, 28-16.
Third-quarter horrors did not end there. The Saints lost the ensuing onside kick. Each team would fumble once more before the final quarter began.
Other than sloppy ball security, the real story was the Sylva-Bay defense. Austin McKinley, Eli Blackwell, and Sykes were all over the place. Aluja Dehenre stuck the dagger when he intercepted a Tigers' pass and returned it into Tiger territory with 3:49 left in the game.
The Saints were able to make the necessary first-downs to get in victory formation.
The win puts Sylva-Bay in the driver's seat to win their second consecutive district championship, but the Generals of Newton County Academy would love to thwart those plans. The two teams battle on the gridiron next week in Bay Springs.
The Saints have faced many reasons to get down and give up on hopes of a long playoff run, but this season might be young again. Underwood had this to say about how important the game with Newton is.
"They're a rival game, but they are district game more importantly," said Underwood. "It's senior night. Newton's got a good football team. They're going to be ready to play against us. We got a chance to win this district again and get a top seed in the playoffs, which is huge."