POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Homecoming came down to the final 35 seconds Saturday.
After falling behind early, Pearl River rallied past visiting Southwest 17-16 at Dobie Holden Stadium.
The victory was a complete effort by the Wildcats (2-5 overall, 1-4 MACJC South), who shutout Southwest (0-7, 0-5) in the second half to secure the win.
"We did whatever it took to get the win. When the time came to execute certain things and make things happen our kids did just that. We missed a bunch of plays early on so we stressed to them they have to make the plays to win the ballgame," Pearl River coach Ted Egger said. "I can't give enough credit to our coaches. They did a great job coaching football this week and today. They came in, some things weren't working in the first half, made the adjustments that were needed, got these kids believing in what they're doing and came out and executed.
"They did a tremendous, tremendous job."
Trailing 16-7 going into the fourth quarter, Pearl River marched down the field to set up a 4-yard run by Jaylan Wilson (Bay St. Louis; Bay). Wilson took the snap, dashed around the right side and into the end zone untouched with 6:30 remaining on the clock.
"I saw it from the beginning. We were in 'Wildcat' and I told Coach before we got in, 'Coach, give me the ball. I'm going to make a good play,'" Wilson said. "He put the ball in my hands so I had to make a good play and we executed it well. I told my running back to block the closest guy and I was going to make everyone else miss."
Still behind 16-14, Egger called for another surprise and the Wildcats went for the onside.
Gayden Hence (Hattiesburg) jogged up to the ball like he was going to boom it, but instead skipped it across the Wildcat logo on PRCC's new turf field. Hence followed the ball through a crowed and re-emerged, ball in hand.
"My heart got to beating fast. I'm not going to lie, I got a little scared," Hence said of when Egger told him they were going for the onside. "I just had to go out there and execute it."
The Wildcats proceeded to milk the clock, setting up Saturday's dramatic finish with 35 seconds remaining.
Hence had previously missed two field goals but when the game was on the line, the freshman struck true, nailing a 21-yard field goal.
"Going into it I was a little nervous because it's my first time being in this situation and not having to kick too many field goals," Hence said. "Coming into kick the game winner and also because I missed two earlier, I was shaking a little bit, but I got my composure, went out there and did what I do best.
"Right off the foot I knew. Perfect contact. Right down the pipe."
Hence's kick sent the crowd into a frenzy.
"He missed a couple early but it didn't get into his head," Egger said. "That onside kick was big for him. He did a great job executing that. He made some big-time plays."
Although the Wildcats held a 17-16 lead, they still needed to complete the rally.
Coordinator J.J. Johnson's defense swarmed the Bears on their final few plays of the game and Ra'Sheim Jordan (Hattiesburg) clinched the victory by blitzing through the right side and engulfing the SMCC quarterback for an 8-yard sack.
The Wildcats opened the game's scoring at 8:58 in the first when D.D. Griffin (Richton) broke free down the home sideline for a 51-yard score.
The Bears countered with a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter and then added 92- and 29-yard touchdown passes in the second frame to take a 16-7 lead into halftime.
Terrence Humphrey (Clarksdale) completed 10 of 21 passes for 88 yards. Wilson was his go-to receiver, hauling in five passes for a team-high 52 yards.
HALL OF FAMERS
As part of Saturday's festivities, Pearl Rivered its Sports Hall of Fame inductees. The Class of 2019 included five inductees: men's soccer's Michael Allizzo, women's basketball's Datishella Byrd, and football's Matthew Lott, Richard Morgan and Charlie Reeve.
During the game Pearl River also honored its 2019 Region XXIII Champion baseball team. The Wildcats, who advanced to the NJCAA World Series in Enid, Oklahoma, were presented with Region Champion rings.
HOW TO TUNE IN
All home events are broadcast on PRCCAthletics.com and PRCCMedia.com. Anyone who has an Amazon Fire or Roku device can stream PRCC broadcasts by downloading the "Pearl River CC" Channel from the app store.