25 Teams in 25 Days: Poplarville Hornets

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Of the five Coast schools that have won at least one high school football state championships, Poplarville feels like it should be on that list.

But despite making it to the 4A title game, three out of the last four years, the Hornets are still in search of their first ever gold ball.

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Wide receiver/ free safety Torry Polk said, “For myself and most of us here we go God, school is a big part of it, our family at home and then this is just about as important as our family at home cause we’re out here around these guys every day putting hard work in. We’re sweating, blood, tears, everything out here and we’re together. You see the person next to you working hard, and you don’t want to let it go.”

Why let anything go, coming off yet another trip to the 4A state title game, Poplarville’s third in four years. Only this time, the Hornets were considered to be the underdog after posting a mark of just 1-4 in non-district games. “Outside there was a bunch of negativity saying y’all aren’t going to be as good as last year. I knew this was going to happen.”

Head Coach Jay Beech said, “Players receiving a little grief, a little doubt. People thought that we wouldn’t be any good. Some people said we weren’t even going to make the playoffs last year. And we had to listen to it all, our kids had to listen to it all, and we took some pretty bad beats early. But we never lost faith.”

Bigger the setback, bigger the comeback is a good way to describe Poplarville’s 2019 season. The reigning south state champs responded with a 4-1 showing in region seven games outscoring opponents by an average of 42 points in their four wins, three of those coming via the shutout. “We played some great competition early, and it exposed some of our weaknesses. And we were able to recognize those weaknesses and work on them and by the end of the year we had fixed most of them, and won four in a row there and got us into the state title game.”

Momentum is a powerful thing, but so was north state champion Corinth. Nagging injuries to star running back Chase Shears certainly didn’t help as Poplarville fell victim to the same fate for a third time over in the form of a 55-21 defeat at the hands of the Warriors. RB/MLB Gregory Swann said, “In the season, it was a very good feeling, like it felt like we won state just coming back from that 1-4 start and making it all the way there. And then that state game, it was devastating.”

“Well, last year we had to fight and scratch and claw just to get into the game. Just one of those nights where we got beat. It was pretty embarrassing, we got beat in front of the whole state pretty bad. So we want to come back and have a great year this year and get back and prove ourselves again.”

For a program that seemingly has so little to prove, at least before the first weekend of December, try telling that to this year’s class of 15 seniors led by the winner of this year’s Hornet Ironman competition Gregory Swann and second place finisher Torry Polk. “Man, I feel like we’re going to come out here and run down people’s throat like we have every year.”

“You feel like you have more weight on your shoulders, but at the same time every single one of us over here have a weight on our shoulders from that and every single one of us can handle that.”

At 9-6 overall, Poplarville’s three year run of winning double digit games and the region 7 title is over. That being said, Class 4A South still runs through the Hornet’s Nest where all the buzz is about leaving a lasting sting for years to come. “Whenever we get in that locker room it’s all about state talk, I mean that’s all they want to do. Before practices we’ll talk about the Corinth game from last year and then it just reminds everybody and the whole locker room gets quiet.”

“Everybody wants to win one and we’re going to try to win one. We’re not happy just getting there, but we are proud of what we’ve accomplished and we are hungry for a state title.”

As a result of the coronavirus, Poplarville lost its August 21st game at Laurel, its August 28th game against Pearl River Central, and its September 4th game at Mandeville.

The Hornets were able to pick up a game on the 4th at Biloxi as a part of Big Red’s annual Shrimp Bowl and a game against St. Stanislaus on September 25th.

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A native of Pass Christian and a St. Stanislaus alum, Jeff Haeger comes to News 25 from right in our backyard. He most recently spent more than three years working as the sports reporter for WHLT-TV in Hattiesburg, where he provided extensive coverage of his alma mater, The University of Southern Mississippi. At Southern Miss, Jeff was a member of the Honors College and graduated with a B.A. degree in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Spanish. He also wrote for USM's award-winning school newspaper, The Student Printz, where he won first place for Best Sports Story in 2013. Jeff loves to travel, and is excited to get back on the water to reunite with his family. In his spare time you can find Jeff spending time with his friends, and maybe even winning a fantasy football league. For sports stories contact Jeff at jhaeger@wxxv25.com.

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