News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days: Picayune Maroon Tide
Last season, the Picayune Maroon Tide became the first high school football team from the six Coastal counties to win a state championship in the almost six years that News 25’s Jeff Haeger has been at WXXV.
That means Picayune is the first-ever reigning state champion to be featured on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days.
What a perfect way to kick off our three-time award winning series with a four-time MHSAA state champion: Picayune Memorial High School.
Wide receiver Jessiah Contee said, “During the game, we had like one minute left and when I realized we won, I just started yelling. And I was like, ah, let’s go! It was a cool moment.”
The first Saturday in December 2021 will be talked about for years to come in Picayune, the kind of Title Town where one never feels like enough. Middle linebacker Amarion Tyson said, “State championship, even though we won it, everybody was happy, we’re not done. We haven’t really won nothing.”
Defensive end/ tight end Jabari McWilliams said, “You’ve got everybody coming up to you, congratulating you. But we’re trying to make history. We’re trying to go back two-time. Picayune ain’t never had a go-back two-peat. We want to go back two-peat. We’ve got to stay dedicated.”
No championship hangover for the Maroon Tide, who won the program’s third gold ball by way of a 40-21 revenge game victory over West Point in the 5A title game.
Workhorse running back Dante Dowdell earned MVP honors on the strength of his game-high 148 yards and two touchdowns and the rest is history.
The former News 25 Student Athlete of the Week collected 25 Division I offers in the six months that followed, all leading up to his epic glove reveal commitment to Oregon back in May and then whatever else he has on tap for his senior season encore. Head Coach Cody Stogner said, “One thing I can point out is Dante, the leadership he’s shown over this off-season has been tremendous, and that’s one thing that was part of his game that he needed to pick up and he’s done well with it.”
Dowdell said, “Still got to play with a chip on your shoulder, you know everybody is coming for you. Even though you know you’re the man. These guys aren’t stronger than me. They’re not working harder. One tackle doesn’t mean nothing. We keep coming. So, you’ve just got to prove to everybody that you are the real deal.”
Dowdell checking in as the state’s third leading rusher in 2021, eclipsing 2,500 yards with 28 house calls, but he’s not even the only four-star recruit in his own backfield.
Junior speedster Chris Davis is the lightning to his thunder and senior fullback Darnell Smith, well, he’s the unsung hero of the whole operation.
All-in-all, Picayune’s ground game accounted for 87 percent of its offense last season and 89 percent of those 5,000 yards come back this season. Not to mention, 100 percent of the stiff arms. “Oh man, he be like, ah! Ah! Dante, man.”
“They be, ah, ah. They be tired. But you’ve got Dante Dowdell running at you every play, dog, nah.”
“We’ve got two four-star running backs and every time they tackle you, they want to act like they won the lottery or something. But it’s no big deal. We keep coming. They really can’t hold us for four quarters.”
Overall, the Tide returns about 20 seniors plus seven starters on offense, surrounding first-year quarterback Brady Robertson with plenty of weaponry and then nine on defense, including mike linebacker Amarion Tyson, who was in on 179 tackles as a sophomore listed at just 5’8”. “It’s all about heart. I ain’t scared to do nothing. Put me on the field, just tell me what to do, I got it. I’ll get the job done for you.”
Championship swagger stronger than ever for a team that ran the table in Region 4 Class 5A en route to an overall mark of 14-1, culminating with some new window dressing at the top of Lee-Triplett Stadium, all part of going from being the hunter to the hunted. “We go into a game knowing everybody wants to beat us. We just stay humble. We let our shoulder pads talk, we don’t talk back whenever they’re talking. So yeah, I mean it’s pretty cool.”
“We’re taking that as a challenge. Last year I feel like we kind of snuck up on some people. And this year, now everybody knows – there’s no secret to what we’re going to do. We’re going to do what we do, and we’ve got to do it to the best of our ability. But it’s also going to come down to, are we going to have more effort and more want to than the other teams on Friday night?”
Life is obviously different as a defending state champion, but not that different, still running the power to near perfection and still bonded by the same six words that keeps Picayune at high tide: “We can. We will. We must.”
“That’s all we’ve really got right there. We can. We will. We must. And we’re going to do it again this year.”
Picayune kicks off its road to a repeat on August 26th with a 7 p.m. road game at Poplarville.
Here’s a new wrinkle to 25 in 25 this season, some ‘Coaches Picks’ with Coach Stogner recommending Two Sisters Creole Kitchen as one of the best meals in town, favorite in the play entire playbook, he’s going with the power run. Favorite sports moment, outside of his own championship, is the New Orleans Saints winning the Lombardi Trophy.