PERKINSTON — The Mississippi Gulf Coast Bulldogs are 2019 MACJC champions, and they have one key characteristic to thank for that beautiful, shiny football trophy.
The No. 1 Bulldogs beat back a rugged No. 4 Northwest Rangers team 23-19 for the school's 16th state championship, clinching a spot in the NJCAA championship game.
"This is all about all the hard work we put in," Gulf Coast quarterback Chance Lovertich said. "The countless hours in the summer. There's no telling how many times we ran routes against air. Everything. This means everything to our team right here."
Gulf Coast (11-0) will play an opponent yet to be determined on Dec. 5. It will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. No. 2 Lackawanna (9-0) plays No. 9 Georgia Military on Sunday in Scranton, Pa. If the Falcons win, they're expected to be the opponent.
The Bulldogs rallied from three separate deficits to win, with Austin Bolton (So., Poplarville/Poplarville) breaking a slew of tackles on a 30-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter for the final margin. The Regulators, the Gulf Coast defense, made it hold up, shutting out the Rangers the rest of the way.
"That's the one thing we talked about at halftime," Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. "It was going to take one of our really good athletes to do something special. I know who we have under center, I know the playmakers we have, I know the defense we have. There was never any real sense of panic in the locker room. We just had to play our game. We got a couple of good breaks and were able to put some points on the board."
The Rangers had three drives after that, punting after two drives netted a total 32 yards, and turning the ball over on downs after losing 9 yards with 1:22 left.
Northwest (8-3) ran for only 50 yards, and quarterback Jack Walker completed just 10-of-29 passes for 191 yards. The Rangers got 129 of their 241 total yards on three big plays to set up scores.
A 32-yard pass to Braden Smith set up the Rangers' first score in the first five minutes into the game.
Gulf Coast would tie it up in the second quarter when Jymetre Hester caught his first of two touchdown passes. His 6-yard reception from Lovertich came midway through the second quarter.
Northwest would take the lead back four players later when the Rangers hit a 61-yard tunnel screen pass. But Gulf Coast got what proved to be a big play when T.J. Ficklin (So., Brandon/Pelahatchie) blocked the extra point, and the Bulldogs trailed 13-7 at halftime.
Lovertich would make the difference on the drive that gave the Bulldogs their first lead. Flushed out of the pocket, he scrambled on for 25 yards to converted a second-and-nine, burying a Ranger in the middle of the drive with a punishing shoulder.
"He took it to another level," Wright said. "There's not enough superlatives in the English language to talk about his play in the course of two years here, let alone today. There were a couple of times today in the third quarter where we didn't look real good and he put the team on his back and got a couple of critical plays."
The Rangers retook the lead with 2:21 to play in the third quarter on a drive keyed by a 36-yard run by Jaquerrious Williams. But Northwest missed the PAT.
Gulf Coast immediately answered with a 10-play, 78-yard drive that ended with Bolton's bruising run. Lovertich converted a third-and-10 in his own territory with a beautiful arching pass to Shaun Anderson (So., Picayune/Picayune) that gained 17.
"We have a really special group," Lovertich said. "I could go on for days talking about this group. I just knew there was no way we were going to lose that game. I knew there was no way the defense would let up and let them score with two minutes. I had faith in those guys."
Hester caught the two-point conversion to make it 22-19, and the Bulldogs defense made it stand up.
"We just came out and fought hard the second half," Gulf Coast defensive lineman Jamie Sheriff said. "We just gave up two big plays they were able to capitalize on. We just kept putting the pressure on them. We knew it was going to be a hard fight."
Lovertich completed 26-of-37 passes for 214 yards and the two scores. Bolton ran 23 times for 116 yards.
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