The Neshoba Central defensive brings down a Grenada runner.
The Neshoba Central defensive brings down a Grenada runner.
Two teams that believe in running the football will collide Friday night when Neshoba Central hosts Lake Cormorant in the second round of the Class 5A state football playoffs.

Neshoba Central comes in at 9-3 following their 26-24 victory over Grenada in last week’s playoff opener. Lake Cormorant stands at 8-4. The Gators defeated Ridgeland 61-25 in its first round game.

Grenada went up 21-0 but the Rockets battled back for the victory.

“It’s the biggest win of my four years here,” Neshoba Central coach Patrick Schoolar said. “It is a huge win for our team, our school and our community. We were down 21-0 and came back and won. That shows some resiliency. We didn’t get away from our game plan. We took some shots with our passing game but we are going to run the football. Throwing the ball keeps them from loading up the box.

 “The defense tonight played exceptionally well. We aren’t going to face any better receivers than two we played tonight. We got some big plays when we needed and we came back and found a way to win. Hopefully, we will have a bigger win next week.”

Grenada, which had beat Neshoba Central in the season opener, scored on its first three possessions on a short run, a 58-yard pass and a 15-yard pass. Leading 21-0 with 9:15 left in the second quarter, the Chargers seemed to be in firm control.

Then on the Rockets next possession, running back Jarquez Hunter broke for a 43-yard run. Hunter Batteva kicked the extra point and the Rockets trailed 21-7.

“Jarquez made a big-time play for us,” Schoolar said. “Momentum switched and went a little bit our way and they never got it back.”

The Rockets forced the Chargers to punt. They put together a 10-play, 53-yard drive powered for a big part by the hard running of Tyler Mathis, who had gains of two, 12 and 19 yards. On fourth down, Eli Anderson connected with Austin Day on a 12-yard completion which gave the Rockets a first and goal on the Grenada three-yard line. Mathis picked up two yards on first down and then carried the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. Bavetta kicked the extra point and the Rockets trailed 21-14 with 1:33 left in the half.

At the end of the half, Grenada kicked a 19-yard field goal and led 24-14 at the half.

The Chargers took the second half kickoff and turned it over four plays later when Hunter intercepted a pass. Five plays later, Hunter scored his third touchdown of the night on an 18-yard run. The extra point try failed and the Rockets trailed 24-20 with 7:44 left in the third quarter.

Right before the end of the third quarter, Hunter intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. The extra point failed and the Rockets led 26-24 with the entire fourth quarter left to play.

Neither team scored in the final quarter. Grenada missed a long field goal and the Rockets held on to advance to the next round.

The Rockets finished the game with 242 totals yards. Neshoba Central had 203 yards on 40 rushes and completed 2-of-9 passes for 19 yards. Hunter finished with 118 yards on 18 carries and Mathis had 110 yards on 20 carries.

Grenada had 314 total yards with 150 coming on the ground and 164 passes.

Jaharon Griffin had 12 tackles and recovered a fumble. Kelbee Holmes had nine tackles while Jashawn Mathis had eight tackles. Ray Gibson, Nick McClendon and Maxton Woodard had seven tackles. Hunter had six tackles and two interceptions. Elijah Ruffin had five tackles,.

Next week …

Like Neshoba Central, Lake Cormorant is a running team. In their win over Ridgeland, the Gators ran the ball 53 times for 403 yards.

The Gators’ four losses have come to Desoto Central 28-14, Senatobia 35-28 in overtime, West Point 27-14, and Columbus 27-26 in overtime.

“They are going to be good,” Schoolar said. “We got a chance to play in the second round of the playoffs. We are a young team. We have some great senior leadership but we have some young guys who are picking up great experience.”