STARKVILLE — Long before Michael Fair’s Lafayette County team took the field Saturday for the State Class 4A championship game, Fair walked out onto the Scott Field turf and strolled around all by himself in the chilling drizzle.

Michael Fair holds the gold ball State Championship trophy during post-game interview. Credit: Rick Cleveland

“The place looks so different now with the additions and the jumbotrons,” Fair said hours later. “It’s just so much bigger. Still, it brought back a lot of memories. So many big games and big victories.”

Fair was an outstanding offensive lineman for Jackie Sherrill’s Mississippi State Bulldogs in the late 1990s.

“We won the SEC West Division,” Fair said. “We had wins over Florida and Alabama. Just so many memories. And now, I’ve got one more and this is right at the top.”

Fair’s first Lafayette team trounced Poplarville 27-12, building a 27-0 lead by feasting of four Hornets turnovers. In doing so, the Commodores made good on their coach’s early season prediction.

“Our goal is to win the state championship,” Fair told Will Sammon of The Clarion-Ledger last April. “our goal going into this year is to win the state championship. I don’t see any reason in waiting around.”

The Commodores didn’t.

But they did stumble early, losing their first two games to Horn Lake and Grenada. Since then, they have won 13 straight.

“They have fought hard all season, just as they did today,” Fair said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Rick Cleveland Credit: Melanie Thortis

Success is nothing new for Fair. He was part of the South Panola dynasty as an offensive line coach under first Ed Stanley and then Ricky Woods. After a brief stint out of football, selling insurance – “I hated it” – he got back into coaching at Pillow Academy and won a state championship there. Between Pillow and Lafayette, he coached two years at Senatobia and made the playoffs both seasons.

Fair was asked Saturday about his early season statement, which put a target squarely on the Commodores’ chests and perhaps raised the pressure on Fair, himself.

“I think the pressure is good,” he said. “You have to be confident. I think it makes me a better coach and makes my players better players.”

His Commodores were nothing if not economical this gray, wet day. On a sloppy field they threw the ball only seven times, but completed six of those for 104 yards. They were opportunistic on defense and also outstanding on special teams with punter Drew Dabney averaging 51.5 yards on four punts.

“You have to give Poplarville a lot of credit,” Fair said. “We got up big, but they kept fighting. We beat a very good, extremely well-coached team.”

Poplarville’s Jesse Parnell was the game’s individual star, running for 216 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Jamarcus Quarles led Lafayette with 70 yards on 22 carries, which was balanced with quarterback William Ard’s 104 yards passing.

Asked if he thought his team let down after getting out to the 27-0 lead, Fair shook his head.

“No sir,” he said. “We continued to play hard. So did Poplarville, and, remember we had three touchdowns called back.”

That was true but also true was this:

“Really, when you get down to it, the only thing that matters is we’ve got this gold ball and the state championship,” Fair said. “That was our goal and we got it.”

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Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.