Poplarville Hornets in fifth straight 4A South State finals


Football on Thanksgiving has always been a long-standing American pastime but for most people that simply means watching it on TV.

For Poplarville, it means having the local TV station run a South State preview for the fifth year in a row so other people can watch the Hornets on TV, once again just two wins away from their first-ever gold ball.

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Head Coach Jay Beech said, “This is our fifth year in a row to practice on Thanksgiving. And to get that complacency or to make it seem like it’s just a normal thing, but it’s not normal. It’s a very special time to be practicing during Thanksgiving and we need to be excited about it and we are excited about it.”

Amidst a high school football season filled with so much uncertainty, Poplarville’s fifth straight trip to the 4A South State championship game brings with it a refreshing since of normalcy. Offensive Guard Tyler Knight said,  “We love hearing that Friday night after third round, that be here 9 o’clock Monday morning for that Thanksgiving practice when nobody else is at school or nothing. Everybody is at home sleeping, and we get up here to practice for our team.”

Certainly nothing to be taken for granted, although the Hornets sometimes have a way of making it look easy. On Friday, they beat a North Pike team that hadn’t lost in ten weeks 62-6, good for the most lopsided playoff win of the Jay Beech era. “We were really ready to play that game. I’ve never seen our guys so focused and so determined to win a game. And then North Pike comes out and hurts themselves with two turnovers early, and then the snowball started going and we just rolled.”

Offensive Tackle Seth Ladner said, “That game right there might have been one of the most special games I’ve ever been a part of in my high school career. I started for three years, and I’ve never seen a group of 22 guys between offense and defense just so perfectly in on what they had to do that it just turned out like that.”

Already Poplarville’s second 60-point game so far this postseason and its third since the start of district play. Overall, the Hornets are dropping almost 50 points per game during that undefeated stretch with an average of 360 yards rushing.

Doing most to all of the damage is a three-headed monster comprised of D.J. Richardbey, Tyron Holston, and Gregory Swann behind a no-nonsense offensive line. “It’s amazing. It’s misdirection. They can’t key in on one person this year. We’ve got three really good backs. When they come in and hit the hole determined to get four yards, it’s fun for us to see them.”

“Oh, it’s definitely very confusing for them because I’ll have to go block somebody and they’re not even looking at me. They’re watching because they thought the play went the whole completely opposite way. It’s very confusing for other teams.”

The running back Rubik’s cube, otherwise known as the Wing-T, has a new challenger this week in the form of the Medenhall Tigers.

The only thing standing between the Hornets and their fourth state title game appearance since 2016, a Thanksgiving tradition they would gladly trade for a new tradition the week after Thanksgiving. “Ever since we’ve made it to the playoffs, we’ve never won our last game and that’s what we want to do.”

“That’s definitely our end goal is to be the first ones to finish it.”

“Yeah, this is great. And I hate to be like this, this is great. But our kids want to win that state title so bad. This is a special time to be practicing, but we really want to get a state title so we’ve just got to take care of business Friday night.”

Poplarville and Mendenhall will kick off the 4A South State title game from the Hornet’s Nest at 7 p.m. Friday.

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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.