25 Teams in 25 Days: Pascagoula Panthers
The last time Pascagoula High School competed in region 4 class 6A, the Panthers finished with an overall record of just 1-10 in 2018.
In the meantime, that 9th grade team played D’Iberville for the district championship and so its now that senior class of 2022, leading the Panthers’ return to the 6A ranks at stop number 13 on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days.
Offensive Guard/ Defensive End Tyrus Burton said, “This team, the identity is going to be proving a point. Proving that we can play in 6A and proving that we can compete as much as everybody else in 6A can.”
Taking the place of West Harrison in region 4 class 6A for at least the next two years is a program with plenty of big game pedigree. Last season, the Panthers were one of just two Coast teams playing on South State weekend and they even got to host. Wide receiver/ Free Safety Brennen Grubbs said, “I mean it was awesome last year. We were doubted very much. We were third in our division, and then out of nowhere, we went on a crazy run and we became district champs, made it to South State.”
Wide Receiver Houston Johnson said, “We were just speaking everything into existence and it was just happening, so it was really nothing to it. Just work out here at practice and just the grind and just come together.”
Pascagoula won its last two district games of the season to force a four-way tie for first place with a mark of 5-2 in which the Panthers came out atop the region 4 5A standings for the first time since 2013.
A first-round home game against Brookhaven turned into a bye week due to COVID-19, but the cardiac kids made good on a second-round rematch against Hattiesburg, winning an overtime thriller on the strength of two clutch field goals.
However, the magic faded on the Friday after Thanksgiving in a two-point South State loss to eventual 5A state champion West Jones, capping off the 8-5 showing not many people saw coming. Head Coach Lewis Sims said, “It just instills a sense of hunger, a pride to get there again, to show you have the opportunity and to get there again, and that’s the goal.”
Wide Receiver Connor Young said, “Last year we were underdogs. I don’t think anybody gave us a chance, and we really bounced off and upset a lot of people – or upset to the fans I guess or whoever doubted us – but this year we have motivation to bounce back from the loss to West Jones. I mean it was a tough loss, so we’re just going to come back harder this year.”
On the quest for the program’s first gold ball since 1987 is an 18-member senior class of 2022 to go along with 13 returning starters including junior quarterback and Mississippi State baseball commit Keilon Parnell who accounted for 22 total touchdowns in 2020.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to attend this particular practice, but everyone else is more than happy to brag on his behalf. “Me and Keilon, that’s the duo. Like it’s always been and just my O-linemen just protect him.”
“He’s just like, you can’t tackle him in a phone booth. It’s just awesome. He’s a great quarterback.”
“Keilon Parnell has the ability to make everybody around him better. And that’s the Captain Class does that. And he’s definitely a member of the Captain Class. I mean you look at the great teams throughout history from the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to you go ahead and look at Jack Lambert and the Pittsburgh Steelers. You had that one consummate leader that elevated the play of everyone around them, and Keilon has that unique ability.”
As a team, the rally point of the Pascagoula football program starts at the front door to the fieldhouse. A WARFACE mentality standing for Work Accountability Respect Family Attitude Character and Enthusiasm. This year, it’s all about the A’s. “The attitude part.”
“Attitude, very much. I mean it all starts how you wake up. Your attitude starts from there.”
“Attitude and accountability. Attitude, because you’ve always got to be positive no matter what happens. And accountability, you’ve got to be a good person.”
The Panthers don’t have to look very far to find a real-life example of both attitude and accountability in the form of 11th year Head Coach Lewis Sims. Underneath the bucket hat is a selfless symbol of strength and courage in the face of adversity. “I mean that’s awesome. I mean for him to sacrifice his hair, I mean people love their hair and I mean just for him to sacrifice that for his wife, I mean it just motivates us to do it for him.”
“Right before our South State game, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. And she’s the toughest woman I know. And so, we kind of kept that to ourselves and I let the team know that next week, but she is fully on her way to recovery. She’s been through radiation, chemo. When she lost her hair, my son and I cut ours off. If anything, just going through this with her and watching the strength that she has, has proven to me that we can do anything we put our minds to. Just get up every day, give it your best shot and embrace every single day you have because you never know when that life will be challenged.”
Pascagoula opens up its 2021 campaign at rival Moss Point for the 83rd rendition of the Battle of the Cats on August 27th.