HATTIESBURG —John Rhys Plumlee, Oak Grove’s marvelous quarterback, threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He scrambled all over the field, often eluding big, fast Horn Lake defenders.

Plumlee ran for 31 more yards, returned five kickoffs for 154 more yards. He punted. He held for kicks.

Said Horn Lake coach Brad Boyette, “I’ll tell you one thing about Plumlee. Any time the ball was in his hands, I couldn’t even take a breath. Man, he’s a great player.”

Rick Cleveland

Know this: Plumlee and Oak Grove lost Friday night. Horn Lake, with so much speed and ability and so many college prospects, prevailed 31-27 before an announced crowd of 9,347 – probably 8,000 of them from nearby Oak Grove. Thus, Horn Lake wins the first football state championship in school history and did it in Class 6A, the state’s largest classification.

And that tells you just about all you need to know about Horn Lake: Playing against a splendid player playing at an extremely high level and playing what amounted to a road game, the Eagles did what it took to win. They finished off a perfect 15-0 season – and they did in style.

Horn Lake’s Patrick Gilliam runs for good yardage, while Oak Grove’s Jarius Reimonenq closes in for the tackle. Credit: Keith Warren/MHSAA

Nobody had scored more than 21 points all season against the Eagles, who gave up only 10 points a game. Plumlee, who has committed to play his college football at Georgia, put up 27. It wasn’t enough.

And it wasn’t enough because Horn Lake had a superb quarterback of its own in Radarious Jones, a tall, rail-thin speedster who put up some gaudy numbers himself. Jones, who is being recruited by most everybody, ran for 83 yards and threw for another 175 yards and two touchdowns. To these eyes, he appeared the fastest player on the field, which is saying something.

Asked if he had ever dueled a quarterback as good as Plumlee, Jones shook his head and then said, “I’m just glad we will be playing on the same team in two weeks.”

They’ll both play for Mississippi in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game. So will Horn Lake linebacker Nakobe Dean, probably the state’s mostly highly recruited player and a chiseled 225-pounder who can also run. So will 280-pound Horn Lake offensive lineman Matthew Williams. There was much star power on the field Friday night.

More on Plumlee: He’s an honors student, a gifted pianist who also sings. He plays centerfield for the Oak Grove baseball team, running down fly balls all over the field. He hits for power and average. If he chose, he could sign a lucrative professional baseball contract right out of high school.

He made two mistakes Friday night – one when he ad libbed and ran a fake punt that came up short. Horn Lake used the resulting short field to drive 44 yards for the winning touchdown. The other came late when Horn Lake’s Drew Leverson intercepted his deep pass over the middle to clinch the game with 1:14 remaining.

Of the faked punt, Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said: “It wasn’t called but John Rhys has the green light to do that if he thinks he can make it. We gave him the green light back in August and it has worked many times. It just didn’t work tonight.”

Roderick Daniels alertly made the stop for Horn Lake.

Of course, Oak Grove wouldn’t have been within shouting distance of Horn Lake if not for Plumlee, whom Causey called, “by far the best player and the best kid I’ve ever been around. I’ll take John Rhys over anybody. I love that kid.”

Across the field, Horn Lake’s Boyette was spreading lots of love himself.

“I am so proud of these guys, been proud of them all year and I’m especially proud of them tonight,” he said. “Listen: That wasn’t easy out there tonight.”

Which only to serves to make it all the more rewarding.

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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.