GULFPORT — With the Admirals shutting down their passing game, second-ranked Ocean Springs took to the ground for over 300 yards on Gulfport for a 46-14 win to clinch the Region 4-6A title Friday night.
Ocean Springs’ win over Gulfport (7-4), combined with D’Iberville’s 25-14 win over Harrison Central (6-2), sets the top four Region 4-6A, with the Warriors (9-1) clinching second, Gulfport third, and Harrison Central finishing fourth.
Depending on how games go in Region 3-6A, Ocean Springs (9-0) will host the Pearl Pirates (7-3), Warren Central Vikings (6-3), or the Meridian Wildcats (6-5). Gulfport will travel to Oak Grove (7-2) in two weeks.
“It’s big,” said Ocean Springs coach Blake Pennock, in his second year in charge of the Greyhounds. “It’s our second year, and Ocean Springs hasn’t won a region championship in a long time. It means a lot to me, to our players, and to our community.”
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” agreed Greyhounds quarterback Bray Hubbard. “I had to step up my game from last year and we accomplished the region championship. It’s huge to have the playoffs on our homefield. The road to Jackson goes through Ocean Springs.”
By clinching the region title a week before the end of the regular season, Pennock could coast next week against Harrison Central. However, he indicated the Greyhounds had one more thing to accomplish in the regular season — go for an undefeated regular season.
“We are on a mission,” he said. “We will be smart about it, but we want to win the final game of the year.”
For Gulfport, the next game is against arch-rival Biloxi (3-6). Admirals coach John Archie said it is very important for Gulfport, which has dropped its last two games, to get the win to set the tone going into the playoffs.
“It’s very important that we get back to our winning ways,” he said. “And, rivalry games are always very important games.”
With Gulfport determined to stop Ocean Springs’ aerial assault, Hubbard took the ground with 113 rushing yards and two scores — including a 57-yard scamper off the quarterback draw — and led a relentless ground game that gained 339 yards on 33 carries.
J.P. Coulter normally does his damage as a receiver, but he rushed on five end-arounds for 118 yards. David Humphries added 85 yards and a score on 13 carries.
“[Gulfport] did some great things to take away our looks downfield,” Pennock said. “They limited our receivers whom we thought would be in the game. But, when you take away something, something else has to give. We were able to get our run game going.”
Hubbard said the offensive line was blocking well for the backs. “They really freed up some holes for myself and David.”
On the end-around, Hubbard said the design of the play was to get the receiver around the opposite end with a lot of space in front of him. “There was a lot of green grass in front of the carrier on that play. We were really locked in today.”
Although downfield throws were hard to come by, Hubbard did have touchdown tosses of 17 and 18 yards to Holton White, 13 yards to Evan McNally. And, although he finished 11-of-19 for 79 yards, his longest non-scoring completion was for only 7 yards.
On the other hand, Archie said it was a bad night for the Admirals. “We couldn’t get anything going offensively and we couldn’t stop them on defense.”
On the bright side, the Admirals did come back in the second half behind quarterback Jacob Palazzo and compete with Ocean Springs, which went into halftime having scored on four-of-their-five possessions for a 28-0 lead at the break.
Palazzo finished with 142 yards on 14-of-19 passing, connecting with Tavaris Henshaw on a 41-yard catch and throw with 5:51 left in the third quarter to cut the Greyhounds lead to 31-7. Henshaw caught four passes for 75 yards.
“We tried to get things going in the second half but we were just too far behind,” Archie said.