HURLEY — Picayune, ranked third by Scorebook Live in Class 5A, used three defensive turnovers Friday night to take control of Region 4 with a 28-14 win over East Central on the road.
With the score tied at 7-7 and the Hornets driving into Maroon Tide territory, Picayune’s Amarion Tyson stripped the ball from an East Central runner and returned the ball 71 yards for the score.
Tyson said he came up on the play with several of his teammates working on stopping the runner. “He didn’t have the ball tucked in,” he said of the East Central runner. “He held the ball outside of his body.”
Tyson said he has been coached to go for he ball and he plucked the ball from the runner’s hands. “When I got the ball, I took it to the crib.”
For East Central coach Eric Collins, the play seemed to switch momentum to Picayune for the rest of the night. After noting Picayune (6-1, 3-0) had just tied the game, Collins said the Hornets (4-2, 2-1) were responding to go back up by a score.
“You could feel the momentum go away on our sideline,” he said. “We are looking to score, but their guy comes up and takes the ball away and they score.”
East Central’s Carson Ryder returned the subsequent short kickoff to the Hornet 45. However, the Picayune defense came up with a fourth down stop and the Maroon Tide took over at their 46. Behind quarterback Dawson Underwood and runningback Dante Dowdell, Picayune slowly drove the ball down the field.
With the ball on the Hornets 17, fullback Darnell Smith got the surprise carry, found a seam kn the middle of the East Central offense and sprinted into the endzone as Picayune opened a 21-7 lead with 6:34 left in the game.
East Central got the ball back at their 46, but on their first play from scrimmage a long fumble returned the ball to Picayune at the Tide 43. Dowdell, hemmed in for much of the night by the Hornets defense, broke free for a 21 yard run. Four plays later, on fourth down, Hornets coach Cody Stogner went deep into his play book on a wide receiver sweep pass.
Chris Davis took the handoff from Underwood and found Noah Carter on a 31-yard pass play to the Hornets 1. It took two tries, but Underwood powered in from the 1 to give Picayune a 28-7 lead with just over three minutes left in the game and seal the win.
“This is not just the ‘Dante’ show,” Stogner said of other players stepping up as East Central took away running lanes from Dowdell. “We have a number of players who work hard and can make plays”
After a scoreless first quarter, East Central got on the scoreboard first driving 51 yards in 11 plays in the third quarter. Deuce Hugger called his own number and sprinted in from 17 yards out with the first half’s only score, giving East Central a 7-0 lead with just under four minutes left in the second quarter.
Picayune responded with their second drive of the second half, driving the ball 54 yards on six plays. Underwood connected with Tamauz Oatis on a 27-yard pass play to set up Carter’s 9 yard sprint to tie the game.
East Central finished the scoring with a late score in the final quarter. Hugger connected on a 34 yard pass to Tyler Farris before running in from 9 yards out with just over a minute left to play.
After being stymied for most of the ground, Picayune’s Dowdell carried the ball nine times for 45 yards in the final quarter to finish the night with 95 yards on 21 carries and go over the 1,000 yard mark for the season, finishing the night with 1,047 yards on 152 carries.
Carter touched the ball five times on the night, but scored on a 9-yard run and set up a second score with his 31-yard pass reception. Underwood was 4-for-4 for 51 yards and ran seven times for 19 yards.
Hugger finished with 75 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He was also 5-of-6 passing 68 yards.