Wildcats tackle nationally-ranked, reigning state champ Wolfpack

            POPLARVILLE —Pearl River’s Wildcats are set to face their fourth nationally-ranked opponent of the 2013 football season this Saturday, when they travel to reigning MACJC state champion Copiah-Lincoln in Wesson with hopes of upsetting the seventh-ranked Wolfpack in its homecoming game.
            A 3 p.m. kickoff is set for the South Division battle in H.L. Stone Stadium.
            The River (3-3 overall, 1-2 division) enters the contest off a hard-fought 19-17 division loss to 10th-ranked (now eighth) Mississippi Gulf Coast last week in Poplarville, while Co-Lin (5-1, 2-1) blistered fourth-ranked (now 13th) non-division foe Itawamba 48-7 in Wesson. That particular win came on the coattail of  Sept. 28’s shocking 50-47 setback to then-ninth-ranked Jones County in Ellisville for Wolfpack’s only loss of the year thus far.
            JCJC’s home victory propelled the Bobcats to the No. 3 spot in the NJCAA Top 20 poll (Oct. 1), while then-fourth-ranked Co-Lin dropped to No. 9. In the Oct. 8 balloting, Jones County leapfrogged former No. 2 East Mississippi to the second spot in the poll and EMCC dropped to third.
            “Co-Lin is an excellent football team with lots of talent on both sides of the ball,” said first-year Wildcat head coach William Jones. “Their quarterback (Daniel Fitzwater) has a lot of precision with his throws and is second in the league in passing yardage. He’s a big guy (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) who moves around well and has great chemistry with his receivers.”
            Last week against Itawamba, Fitzwater threw for a season-and-career-high 459 yards and four touchdowns, completing 58.5 percent (24 of 41) of his throws with no interceptions. All told, the Shreveport, La., freshman has passed for 1,631 yards (271.8 per game) with a second-best 13 touchdowns in the league and only four interceptions.
            “They’re also have a very sold running game and an aggressive defense,” Jones continued. “We’ll have our hands full.”
            A year ago, the Wolfpack ended Jones’ last season as defensive coordinator at East Mississippi in the first round of the MACJC playoffs when the eventual-state champs returned a 90-yard kickoff in the final 10 seconds for the game-winning score to defeat the nationally-ranked North Division champ Lions 47-46 in Scooba. CLCC went on to take a 41-37 come-from-behind victory over Mississippi Gulf Coast the following week to win its 10th-ever state title before ending its season with a 31-29 loss to Garden City (Kan.) in the fifth-annual Mississippi Bowl.
            Tenth-year Wolfpack head coach Glenn Davis guided his team to four straight wins to open the season, including a 29-20 home win over Northeast Mississippi in its opener, then back-to-back road victories over Northwest Mississippi (48-24) and East Central (23-0) in its division opener. The Wolves followed with a 19-10 division win over Hinds in Wesson before blowing a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter in their loss to Jones County.
            Pearl River, on the other hand, opened its season with a 49-6 non-division loss to now-third-ranked East Miss before following with a 30-14 non-division win over still-winless Mississippi Delta --- both in Poplarville. Then came Jones County’s 34-16 victory in Ellisville to open both team’s division schedules, while the Wildcats took a 21-7 non-division win over Coahoma in Clarksdale and followed with a 38-14 division win over Southwest Mississippi.
            Last week against Gulf Coast, the Wildcats trailed 19-10 in the final two minutes, but cut the Bulldogs’ lead to two when Shaun White hit Chad Cook with a 41-yard scoring pass in the end zone with 1:28 left and Brandon King booted the PAT. King’s ensuing onside kickoff was recovered by Antron Watts, but his effort was nullified as officials ruled the ball was touched by a Wildcat defender before it traveled the necessary 10 yards.
            “Who knows, if we had got that (onside) recovery and moved it in a little closer, Brandon might’ve been the hero of the night with a game-winning field goal,” said Jones. “But I was proud of our guys for hanging in there the way they did. We never gave up and played hard from start to finish.
            “It’s going to take an all-out effort by our guys on both sides of the ball this Saturday.”
            Last year, the Wolfpack took a 44-21 homecoming win over the Wildcats in Poplarville in former head coach Tim Hatten’s final season at The River.
            Saturday’s South Division battle marks the 78th time the two schools have met on the gridiron in a rivalry that dates back to 1934 when the Wolves took a 12-0 shutout over the Wildcats. With the exception of 1936’s 7-7 and 1941’s 13-13 deadlocks, Pearl River wasn’t victorious over Co-Lin until 1946’s 32-7 win.
            Legendary PRCC head coach Dobie Holden led the Wildcats on a nine-year winning streak over the Wolves, starting in 1948 before Co-Lin snapped the string with a 20-14 victory in 1955, then won 14-13 in 1957. Pearl River pounded the Wolves 52-6 in 1961’s state and national championship season, then took a 50-14 lopsided win two years later in another state title year for the River. After 1964’s 42-0 shutout, the Wolves picked up a 15-7 and 21-19 victories in 1965 and 1966, respectively.
            John Russell succeeded Holden in 1967 and was 5-1-1 against the Wolves in his seven seasons at the Wildcat helm. Harvey Seligman was named interim head coach the 1974 season after Russell resigned during the preseason and recorded a 16-13 win over Co-Lin. J.C. Arban arrived on the scene in 1975 and reeled off a 6-5 mark in his 11 seasons with the Wildcats. Arban’s successor, Mike Nelson, was 1-3 against the Wolves, while Willie Coats followed with a 2-3 mark.
            Keith Daniels succeeded Coats in 1995 and was 2-3 in five years. He died of a brain hemorrhage five games into the 2000 season. The Wildcats took a lopsided 45-3 victory in 2005’s Hurricane Katrina-shortened season.
            In 2006, the Co-Lin stunned the then-top-ranked Wildcats with a 31-21 regular season upset victory in Wesson, marking Hatten’s only defeat to Wolves in his storied career. CLCC went on to win the division title, but PRCC, which dropped to No. 9 following the regular-season setback, avenged that defeat with a thrilling 21-20 nailbiter over Co-Lin in the state championship game via a last-minute TD pass from Larry Freeman to Demetrius Byrd.
            That victory pushed the Wildcats to the No. 2 spot in the national poll and thus a berth in the NJCAA championship game against Blinn (Tex.) where PRCC lost 19-6 in the Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl in Mt. Pleasant, Tex.
            Pearl River has defeated Co-Lin in 2007 and 2008, taking a 14-2 and 21-16 decisions, respectively. In 2009, the Wolves took a 42-25 win in Wesson.
            The Wildcats lead the series with 40 wins and 35 losses (three ties). PRCC has won an unprecedented 19 state championships, while reigning state champ Co-Lin has won 10, including a string of six straight from 1929 through 1934 and back-to-back championships in 1937 and 1938. PRCC won four straight titles (2003-2006); including an NJCAA national championship in 2004.
            In other South Division action last week, Hinds (4-2, 2-2) smacked Southwest Mississippi (2-4, 1-2) 40-20 in Summit and second-ranked Jones County (6-0, 4-0) shutout winless East Central (0-6, 0-4) in Decatur, while in the North, Northeast Mississippi (3-3, 3-0) dropped winless Coahoma (0-6, 0-3) in Booneville, third-ranked East Mississippi (6-0, 3-0) defeated Holmes (3-2, 3-0) in Goodman, and Mississippi Delta (1-5, 1-3) picked up its first win of the season with a 34-27 decision over Northwest Mississippi (1-5, 0-3) in Senatobia. Seventh-ranked and reigning MACJC champ Copiah-Lincoln (5-1, 2-1) smacked then-fourth-ranked Itawamba (5-1, 3-0) 48-7 in Wesson in the only intra-divisional match up of the week. ICC dropped to No. 13 in the latest NJCAA poll.
            Three Thursday games are set for this week. In the North Division, East Mississippi hosts Northeast Mississippi in Scooba, while in the South, Jones County hosts Hinds in Ellisville and Mississippi Gulf Coast hosts Southwest Mississippi in Perkinston (results unavailable). Three other Homecoming battles are on tap Saturday. In the North, Coahoma hosts Itawamba in Clarksdale an Holmes hosts Northwest Mississippi in Goodman, while East Central hosts Mississippi Delta in Decatur for the only intra-divisional match up of the week.
            All Pearl River games are broadcast live on WFMM-FM (97.3) in Hattiesburg, WFFF-FM (96.7) in Columbia, and WRJW-AM (1320) in Picayune. Play-by-play announcer Jason Baker, amidst his 14th season behind the Wildcat microphone, 12-year color commentator Clay Sweet, and sideline reporter Jeff Lossett will handle the broadcast. Air time for Thursday’s broadcast is 2:30 p.m. You may also watch (via livestream) and listen to the Wildcats on the world wide web by logging on to www.prcc.edu (click on the icon at the bottom left of the screen, and follow the instructions).

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