HATTIESBURG — The Mississippi High School Activities Association State Football Championships rarely disappoint when it comes to drama – the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as “Wide World of Sports” Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim McKay famously put it.

The 2022 championship games, played Friday and Saturday at The Rock at Southern Miss, were no exception. The weekend produced shootouts – such as Raleigh’s 55-52 triumph over Noxubee County in the Class 3A game – and defensive struggles, such as Lousville’s 17-14 conquest of Mendenhall in the Class 4 A championship.

We saw some of the state’s most highly recruited college prospects, streamlined physical athletes such as Raleigh’s Suntarine Perkins and Picayune’s Dante Dowdell. We saw magnificent high school players such as Scott Central’s bowling ball of a quarterback, Quez Goss (5-feet, 9 inches, maybe, and 220 pounds). Get this: In back to back state championships, Goss has produced a total of 14 touchdowns, while his Scott Central team has scored 112 points.

Picayune, winning its second straight 5A championship, emerged as the state’s only undefeated team. With seemingly the entire citizenry of Picayune filling the lower deck on the east side at The Rock, the Maroon Tide finished a perfect 15-0 with only one victory coming by fewer than 10 points.

Louisville won its 11th state championship, tying it with West Point for most football state championships among Mississippi public schools.

Starkville’s championship season deserves special recognition. The Yellowjackets, beset by a brutal schedule and key injuries, lost three straight games in September and October before regrouping to win its last eight, including four straight in the playoffs. Asked who made up that brutal schedule, Jones responded, “I did. You don’t get any better playing cupcakes.”

So, let’s recap the games in the order they were played.

Raleigh’s Suntarine Perkins (4) rambles for some of his nearly 400 yards of offense in Raleigh’s 55-52 victory over Noxubee Countyor the MHSAA Class 3A Football Championship Friday, December 2, 2022 at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. (Photo by Keith Warren)

Class 3A: Raleigh 55, Noxubee County 52

What a way to start the weekend: In Raleigh’s 55-52 Class 3A championship victory over Noxubee County, the two teams combined for a MHSAA playoffs record 107 points – not to mention 14 touchdowns, 45 first downs and nearly 1,000 yards of offense. There were only two punts, both by Noxubee.

Rarely, if ever, has an MVP trophy belonged to a more obvious winner. Suntarine Perkins, Raleigh’s do-it-all superstar, provided 331 yards and four touchdowns rushing. He caught three passes for 56 yards. He kicked off. He led his team in tackles and he made a crucial fourth quarter interception to preserve the victory.

Perkins, a heavily muscled, 6-foot-3, 205-pound player, showed why virtually every college coach in the country would love to have him and why Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin and Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding watched the game from field level, just behind the north end zone. Afterward, Perkins confirmed that Ole Miss, to whom he has verbally committed, and Alabama, are the last two suitors he is considering. One or the other is going to get a remarkable athlete – and take a huge NIL hit – when Perkins signs on the dotted line. He said that will happen “sometime in December.”

It took all of Perkins’ heroics to get the victory. Noxubee County, a perennial Mississippi high school powerhouse, fought all the way to the final gun. Keep this name in mind for future reference: Kamario Taylor. Just a 10th grader, the long-limbed, 6-4, 180-pounder kept Noxubee in it, throwing for five touchdowns. 

Taylor was marvelous, but Perkins was even better. He sprinted 74 yards for a touchdown, out-running much smaller people, the first time he touched it. He was just getting started.

Asked how he felt afterward, Perkins smiled. “Real good,” he said, “but my legs I gotta admit are a little tired.”

The Bay Springs defense pitched a shutout, limiting McEvans to only 149 yards of offense. Here, Kamron Beavers, 66, all 330 pounds of him and Demraion Campbell, 54, harass McEvans Omarian Blakes, 6. ( Photo by Keith Warren)

Class 1A: Bay Springs 22, McEvans 0

Mississippi State commit Tyrick Jones rambled for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries but it was the Bay Springs defense, which much included Jones, that sparked the Bulldogs to the school’s second straight state championship. After Friday’s first game produced 107 points, Bay Springs allowed none, serving to reinforce the age-old adage: Defense wins championships.

Bay Springs did not complete a single pass, but ran for 270 yards and allowed McEvans only 149 yards of total offense. Why throw it if you don’t need to?

It was Bay Springs’ sixth shutout of the season and the 11th time the Bulldogs have held an opponent to one score or fewer scores. McEvans had averaged 42 points per game in three previous playoffs victory but couldn’t crack the Bay Springs defense, which did not give up a score in four playoffs games.

Said Jones, a 225-pounder who likely will play on the defensive side of the ball at State, “Our plan was to run the ball down their throat, and that’s what we did. We were going to pound and pound it until they quit.”

Oregon commitment Dante Dowdell, 2, led Picayune to a second straight Class 6A State Championship, running for 190 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Maroon Tide to a 31-21 victory over West Point.( Photo by Keith Warren)

Class 5A: Picayune 31, West Point 21

Defending State 5A Champ Picayune fell behind perennial powerhouse West Point 14-3 Friday night but there was no panic along the Maroon Tide sidelines. When you have a stable of running backs, led by four star recruit Dante Dowdell, why panic?

After running for 190 yards and three touchdowns, Dowdell, the MVP, explained, “We’ve got a lot of guys that have heart. When we get a head of steam and start going downhill, we’re hard to stop.”

Chris Smith also ran for 104 yards for the Maroon Tide, which was playing West Point in the state championship game for the second consecutive year. Dowdell, who stands 6 feet, 1 inch and weighs 215 pounds, displayed a remarkable blend of speed and power against a normally salty West Point defense.

“He’s a great player,” Picayune coach Cody Stogner said of Dowdell. “Sometimes you just gotta let a great player play. We’ve had him for four years, and he’s just gotten better and better every year. We lean on him heavily, and we did again tonight. Like always, he delivered.”

Louisville coach Tyrone Shorter and his Wildcats celebrate an 11th state championship. (Photo by Keith Warren)

Class 4A: Louisville 17, Mendenhall 14

Make that 11 for 11 for the Lousville Wildcats. After defeating Mendenhall 17-14 for the 4A State Championship Saturday, the Wildcats have advanced to a state championship game 11 times. They have won all 11. None could have been any more difficult than the three-point victory over the Mendenhall Tigers.

Junior Ceidrick Hunt booted a 27-yard field goal as time expired to give Louisville the winning margin in a game mostly dominated by the two defenses.

You think there isn’t pressure to win in a tradition-rich program such as Louisville? “I didn’t want to be the first coach (at Louisville) to come down here and lose in the finals,” said Louisville head coach Tyrone Shorter.

It looked like that might happen. Mendenhall was driving late in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats forced the game’s only turnover. Senior Gabe Moore forced a fumble, which was recovered by sophomore Ja’cari Owens at the Mendenhall 43-yard-line with 32 seconds remaining in regulation. Senior quarterback Keyarrion Jackson led a short drive to produce the game-winning field goal.

Louisville is now tied with West Point for most state championships among Mississippi public schools teams. Both have won 11. Said Jackson, “Now we’re part of the legacy.”

Scott Central wide receiver Antreyvious Edwards hauls in one of Quez Goss’s five touchdown passes in the Rebels 42-12 victory over Charleston for the Class 2A State Championship. (Photo by Keith Warren)

Class 2A: Scott Central 42, Charleston 12

Next season, the Class 2A State Championship can be someone else’s playground. Scott Central quarterback Quez Goss won’t be around to show off again. Goss, who accounted for eight touchdowns in Scott Central’s 70-26 romp over Leflore County last December, was responsible for six more in the Rebels’ 42-12 pasting of Charleston Saturday.

Goss plays a lot taller than his 5 feet, 9 inches. He throws the deep ball with uncanny accuracy. And he throws primarily to two senior wide receivers who can go up and get it. Southern Miss commit Javieon Butler hauled in five catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, while Antreyvious Edwards had three catches for 133 yards and three touchdowns.

“When you’ve got guys like those, it makes my job so much easier,” Goss said. “I just launch it downfield and let them go get it.”

Goss was being overly modest. He finished 9-of-14 passing for 281 yards with five touchdowns and also added a rushing touchdown. He was a clear cut for choice for MVP for a second consecutive season.

Since 1999, Scott Central has won four state championships and been the runner-up twice.

Starkville quarterback Trey Petty, 12, races for yardage through the Brandon defense. (Photo by Keith Warren)

Class 6A: Starkville 48, Brandon 32

Oddsmakers don’t make point spreads for high school football games, but powerhouse Brandon, which entered at 12-1, would have been favored over a Starkville team that started 0-3 in its own region this season. But Starkville took control at the beginning and coasted to the championship victory.

Junior quarterback Trey Petty led the way, throwing for two touchdown and running for three more. He was named the MVP but Starkville coach Chris Jones had another name for him. “He’s a dog,” Jones said. “I’m happy he’s on my team. He does a good job, and has been doing a good job all year. He had a rough patch early in the year when he was struggling and playing through injuries, but he bounced back. That’s what champions do.”

Starkville scored on seven of its 10 possessions and four of its first six. The Yellowjackets led 21-3 at halftime and then 28-3 early in the third quarter. Brandon finally got its offense in gear in the second half, but by then it was too late. Quarterback Landon Varnes passed for 297 yards and halfback Nate Blount powered for 184 yards on 24 carries, but it was not nearly enough.

The championship was the seventh in Starkville history but the first since 2015. Chris Jones has now won state championships at both Kemper County and Starkville.

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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.