’Cat Fight hits gridiron for 83rd time Saturday

        POPLARVILLE --- One of the most storied rivalries in the history of community college football hits the gridiron for the 83rd time Saturday when 19th-ranked Jones County hosts Pearl River in the renowned ’Cat Fight between the two schools.
            A 7 p.m. kickoff is set for the game in Bobcat Stadium, marking the MACJC South Division openers for both teams.
            Second-year head coach Ray Perkins’ Bobcats enter the contest off impressive back-to-back non-division road victories --- 54-15 over Holmes in Goodman and 34-28 over Northeast Mississippi in Booneville --- while first-year head coach William Jones’ Wildcats were 49-6 losers to fifth-ranked East Mississippi in their season opener before rebounding with a 30-14 non-division win over Mississippi Delta last Thursday.
The 2013 ’Cat Fight marks the first road game of the year for The River and the first home contest for JCJC.
            Perkins, a Petal native, boasts one of the most impressive coaching resumes in the entire NJCAA having headed collegiate programs at national-champion Alabama (Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant successor from 1983-86) and Arkansas State (1992), as well as in the National Football League with the New York Giants ((1979-82) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1987-90). He also had numerous assistant college (Mississippi State, 1973) and NFL (New England, 1973-74, 1993-96; San Diego, 1978; Oakland, 1997; Cleveland, 1999-2000) coaching stints. Perkins was a Crimson Tide wide receiver under Bryant from 1964-66 and in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts from 1967-71.
            The Wildcat mentor says the undefeated Bobcats, nationally-ranked by the NJCAA for the first time this season in its poll released Tuesday, are one of the better teams fielded in Ellisville in recent years.
            “They’re 2-0 and are off to a fast start,” said Jones. “They’ll be playing at home and will have a lot of fans there for the Hall of Fame induction. The Bobcats are just a good, well-coached football team and we’re going to have our hands full.”
Jones added that his Wildcats “grew up a bit” with last week’s Delta win.
            “We’re a mighty young team and we just grew up a bit quicker than lots of folks expected,” said Jones of the victory. “We played better and executed better on both sides of the ball compared to the opener and we held errors to a minimum…turnovers by us were not a factor.
            “But we’re glad to get that first win under our belts. We need to realize we’re facing an undefeated football team this week,” he continued. “Jones County is solid on both sides of the ball and excel on special teams. Their defense is outstanding in limiting the number of touchdowns.
“Plus they have the league’s top two pass receivers (JaMichael Willis and Quartez Cooks) in yards per game, which will definitely be a challenge for our defensive guys.”
            Willis has averaged 101.5 receiving yards in the Bobcats’ two wins to lead the MACJC, while Cooks is second league-wide with an 82-yard average. JCJC ranks fourth in the league in total offense with a 453-yard average, while PRCC is ninth at 238.
            Freshman quarterback Steven Swindle, a former Oak Grove Warrior under head coach Nevil Barr and offensive coordinator Brett Favre, ranks fifth in the state in passing; completing 64.1 percent of his throws for an average of 190.5 yards per game.
            Pearl River’s offensive attacks ranks ninth in the MACJC, averaging 238 yards a game; while running backs Detrick Goff, a Mississippi Gulf Coast transfer out of Hancock County High, and Darrell Robinson of Noxubee County High, average 44.5 (10th) and 39.5 (21st) yards per outing, respectively.
            Shaun White, a Middle Tennessee transfer who prepped at Catholic High in Pensacola, Fla., ranks seventh among the league’s QBs throwing for an average of 121.5 yards a game and completing an impressive 72.7 percent of his throws.
            The two teams boast strong kicking games with Bobcat punter Grant McLauren leading the MACJC with a 41.1-yard average, while the Wildcats’ Brandon King of Florence High is third at 40.7.
            A year ago, Jones County pulled off a hard-fought 39-34 victory over The River in Poplarville, surviving a late comeback rally by the Wildcats who trailed 39-13 with 7:50 minutes left in the game under former head coach Tim Hatten. PRCC scored three touchdowns in the last eight minutes, highlighted by a record-breaking 95-yard TD punt return by former defensive back Marino Daggons only to come up six points shy of victory. PRCC committed a costly four turnovers in the loss to JCJC’s one.
 
THE ’CAT FIGHT RIVALRY
            Pearl River leads its series with JCJC with 41 wins versus 39 losses (two ties) heading into this year’s match up.
            In 2011, Jones took a 35-7 lopsided victory in the 2011 finale for both teams, while in 2010, the Wildcats took a 24-21 double-overtime victory in Ellisville. In 2009, PRCC won the statistical battle in lopsided fashion --- 320 total offensive yards to the Bobcats’ 205 --- but JCJC prevailed in lieu of a whopping five Wildcat turnovers. The River had two interceptions inside Jones’ 10 and another pick and a lost fumble around the opponent’s 20.
            In 2008, the then-10th-ranked Wildcats seemed destined for defeat when quarterback Emil Jones muffed a shotgun snap and Bobcat linebacker Demorio Leverette picked up the miscue and sped untouched to the end zone for a go-ahead score with 2:37 remaining in the game. JCJC quarterback Early James then passed to Anthony Jackson for the two-point conversion to give the then-third-ranked Bobcats a 22-19 edge.
            But The River answered with a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the win, capped by a four-yard shovel pass from Jones to Ray Chisholm with 1:02 left to give Jones its first loss of the year.
            In 2007, the then-fifth-ranked Bobcats put together a fourth-quarter rally to spoil the Wildcats’ Homecoming with a 33-28 setback, while in 2006, PRCC trailed the home-standing Bobcats 24-13 with under five minutes left, but rallied back with 15 unanswered points to hand their previously-undefeated hosts a heartbreaking 28-24 defeat.
            Wide receiver Demetrius Byrd snagged a 21-yard touchdown pass from Carlton Hill with 56 seconds left to ice the hard-fought victory. Hill entered the game under center to kick off the second half after playing wide receiver in PRCC’s previous six-and-a-half outings. Hill put on a stunning fourth-quarter show that wowed the capacity crowd witnessing the slugfest played on Sim Cooley Field. The Bobcats seemingly never recovered from the shocking defeat as they managed to score a meager six points in their last two games and closed out the remainder of their season with back-to-back losses to Mississippi Gulf Coast (24-3) and Copiah-Lincoln (16-3).
            In 2005, the Wildcats took a hard-fought 28-18 victory in Ellisville a year after their lopsided 52-10 Homecoming romp in Poplarville in PRCC’s state and national championship season. PRCC won 35-21 in 2003.
            The rivalry cranked up back in 1934 with Jones winning the inaugural meeting 33-0 and from 1937 until 1944, Jones won six straight, including a unique 3-2 victory in 1938.
            Legendary PRCC coach Dobie Holden compiled a 13-7-1 record against Jones in his 21 years at the Wildcat helm, including a 12-12 deadlock in 1946 in his first game at The River. Holden’s successor, John Russell, was 5-2 against the Bobcats in seven years, while his successor, Harvey Seligman, was 0-1. J.C. Arban was 3-7-1, while Mike Nelson followed and was 2-2 in the late 1980s. Willie Coats was 3-2 and Keith Daniels 2-4 in the 1990s.
            In 2000, the Bobcats were 37-21 victors in Daniels’ last game as Wildcat coach. Daniels died the following day of a brain hemorrhage. The preceding season, Daniels led Pearl River to one of the most stunning upsets in history when the Wildcats trimmed then-defending state and national champion Jones 20-15 in Ellisville. Scott Maxfield, Daniels’ successor who left after the 2001 season to take the head job at Blinn College in Brenham, Tex., lost 24-14 in his only game against the Bobcats. Hatten, who is now head coach at Crestview (Fla.) High, was 7-4 versus the Bobcats in his 11 years at the PRCC helm.
 
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE MACJC
            In other action around the MACJC last week, top-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast defeated Holmes 36-7 in Perkinston, fifth-ranked East Mississippi demolished East Central 59-0 in Scooba, sixth-ranked and reigning MACJC-Region 23 champion Copiah-Lincoln was a 48-24 winner over Northwest Mississippi in Senatobia, eighth-ranked Hinds smacked Coahoma 55-20 in Clarksdale, and 12th-ranked Itawamba dropped Southwest Mississippi 40-6 in Summit.
 
NEXT WEEK IN THE MACJC
            The Pearl River versus Jones County match up is the only game set for Saturday with six others set for Thursday. North Division openers include Coahoma (0-2) hosting Northwest Mississippi (0-2) in Clarksdale, Northeast Mississippi (0-2) hosting Holmes (0-2) in Booneville, and Itawamba (2-0) hosting Mississippi Delta (0-2) in Fulton. In the South, East Central (0-2) hosts Co-Lin (2-0) in Decatur and Hinds (2-0) hosts Mississippi Gulf Coast (2-0) in Raymond on Thursday. East Mississippi (2-0) hosts Southwest Mississippi (1-1) in the only intra-divisional match up of the week.
 
LISTEN TO THE WILDCATS
            This year’s ’Cat Fight will be broadcast live on WFFF-FM (96.7) in Columbia and WRJW-AM (1320) in Picayune. Play-by-play announcer Jason Baker, amidst his 14th season with the Wildcats; 12-year color commentator Clay Sweet, and sideline reporter Jeff Lossett will handle the broadcast. Airtime for Saturday’s broadcast is set for 6:30 p.m. You may also watch (via livestream) and listen to the division opener over the worldwide web by logging on to the college’s website --- www.prcc.edu. Click on the icon at the bottom left of the screen, and follow the instructions. WFMM-FM (96.7) in Hattiesburg, which is part of the PRCC Radio Network, won’t air Saturday’s PRCC-JCJC game as it conflicts with it’s already-scheduled Ole Miss-Texas game.

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