PERKINSTON — No. 4 Mississippi Gulf Coast took a big lead early then held on late Thursday, getting a last-minute red-zone stop against No. 13 Jones to preserve a 20-14.
The Bulldogs stayed undefeated thanks to a defense that allowed just 232 total yards, and an offense that converted 10-of-18 third downs.
"I coulda told you Sunday night it was going to be a close game, and I told our guys to prepare for a four-quarter battle," Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. "It was gonna come down to something small at the end, and that's exactly what happened a big defensive play."
Navonteque Strong (Fr., Scott Central/Forest) sacked the Jones quarterback on fourth-and-6 from the Bulldogs' 12-yard line. It ended a frantic possession that started near midfield and saw the Bobcats (2-2, 1-1 MACJC South) turn a third-and-1 into a tougher situation when they got flagged for 12 men on the field.
Strong's 10-yard sack capped a night that saw him make six total tackles, with a quarterback hurry and a broken up pass. It also happened when the Bulldogs only had 10 men on the field.
Gulf Coast (4-0, 1-0) marched 93 yards after getting pinned deep on the opening kickoff. Chance Lovertich (So., Jackson Prep/Brandon) found Maleik Gray (So., LaVergne/La Vergne, Tenn.) for a 23-yard pass on third down.
The Bulldogs converted three on the series, setting the tone for the evening.
"We were staying ahead of the chains, converting some third-and-5's," Wright said. "We were getting to the sticks in the passing game. That's what really allowed us to continue some drives and punch some scores in."
A lightning-quick first half completed in less than an hour also saw a nine-play, 76-yard drive in the middle of the second quarter. Austin Bolton (So., Poplarville/Poplarville) scored from 3 yards out for his fifth touchdown of the season.
The Bulldogs scored on their first drive of the second half when Omni Wells (So., Moss Point/Moss Point) plunged in from 2 yards to make it 20-0, and Gulf Coast looked to be in control.
Jones, however, blocked a punt early in the fourth quarter and scored on the next play on a 12-yard pass.
"That gave them momentum," Wright said. "They hadn't scored up unto that point. You could feel the momentum shift. We've all been in those kinds of games, and it was exactly that kind of moment. I was expecting it. Things were going well for us the first three quarters, but that's a good program with a bunch of good coaches. They're not going to quit."
Jones made it a one-score game with six minutes left on a 29-yard drive after a long punt return, setting up the furious finish.
Lovertich completed 18-of-25 passes for 202 yards. Wells led Gulf Coast with 50 yards rushing, and Marquise Bridges (So., Petal/Brookhaven) caught five passes for 79 yards.
Jymetre Hester (Fr., Glades Central/Belle Glade Fla.) caught four passes for 61 yards, including a 46-yarder to set up the final Gulf Coast score.
Mike Smith (Fr., Ridgeland/Flora), the other starting linebacker for Gulf Coast, finished with eight tackles and forced a fumble. Malik Jones (Fr., Grenada/Grenada) recovered it, and Jackie Matthews (So., Pinson Valley/Pinson Ala.) had an interception.
"It's the same thing I've seen all four games," Wright said. "We've got a good defense. That's a good group, a very good junior college defense. I knew it would be hard for Jones to move the football like it will be difficult for a lot of teams. Their production on third down is what stands out as the difference in the game."
Gulf Coast held Jones to 1-of-10 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth.
The Bulldogs will travel to Wesson next week looking to avenge the other loss of last season.
"We're 1-0 in the South Division," Wright said. "Last year, we had a solid ballclub, but we played two really good teams to start division play against Jones and Co-Lin, and we started 0-2. It took the wind out of our season. This is a big division win."
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