CLARKSDALE — Friday night was an evening that was circled on the Northside High School Gators’ calendar.
Northside, which was formed last year from the merger of Broad Street High School in Shelby and John F. Kennedy in Mound Bayou, took on the Charleston High School Tigers for the 2A North Half Football Championship with the winner going to the 2A State Championship Game.
Northside entered the game perfect through its first 13 contests. The Gators won the Region 3-2A Championship during the regular season with their biggest win being a 22-8 triumph over Charleston in region play. Charleston, after losing to Northside, won its last six games to get to Friday’s North Half showdown.
Fans came in droves as they filled the James E. Miller Stadium on the campus of Coahoma Community College. The energy and excitement provided a big-time atmosphere fitting for a game of this magnitude on a clear, cool night. Spectators were eager to see if Northside was going to beat Charleston for the second time or would Charleston get its revenge.
The two teams fought in an intense contest that saw neither side give an inch. After the last second ticked off the clock, the Gators came out victorious 14-6 to secure the North Half Title and earn a berth into the 2A State Championship Game. Northside will play Taylorsville (14-1) Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi at 3 p.m.
Northside improved to 14-0, while Charleston finished its season at 10-5. Charleston gave Northside its two toughest games of the year, but Northside was a team that wouldn’t be denied.
“Relentless effort, that’s our motto,” Gators head coach Tavares Johnson, Sr. said. “That’s been our motto from the beginning. Relentless effort. I had everybody look that up. It basically means regardless of what happens, we continue to fight. I don’t care what happens, you continue to fight. Relentless effort all the time and that’s what the guys showed tonight.”
Charleston was a 3A powerhouse that dropped down to 2A this season. Northside had to play as an independent last year and was put in the same region as Charleston. Before Johnson took the coaching job at Northside, Johnson had coached against Charleston six times when he was the head football coach at East Side High School. Johnson was 1-5 against the Tigers at East Side. The Gators are 2-0 against the Tigers under Johnson this year.
“They said we couldn’t do it,” Johnson said. “All year long, we’ve been answering the bell. They said we were too small, we were too slow, we don’t have good coaches in the Delta and they said we couldn’t beat Charleston twice. One thing about it is it’s Northside’s time now. We came, we played and like I said the better team is going to win.”
The Gators’ defense was solid the entire night.
After the Gators were forced to punt on offense on their first possession of the game, the Tigers got the ball to begin their first drive at their own 21-yard line. Charleston’s drive lasted a few plays, but Northside’s defense came up clutch as Terrick Latham intercepted a pass to give the Gators possession of the ball at the Charleston 45-yard line. The Gators ended up putting their first points on the board as Jaterrance Moore found Karltavis Burrage on a pass play that resulted in a 42-yard touchdown with 7:06 left in the first quarter. Moore scored the two-point conversion to make the score 8-0.
The Gators’ offense had its struggles after the first touchdown as the Tigers held the Gators at bay. The struggles of the offense put the defense in a situation where it had to keep Charleston off the board. Northside’s defense in the first half was up to the challenge as the Gators forced the Tigers to punt on their next three possessions. Northside’s defense also forced a turnover-on-downs, which enabled the Gators to take an 8-0 lead at halftime.
Northside’s defense stayed strong to start the second half as Jaylon Johnson intercepted a pass on Charleston’s second possession of the half, but the Gators’ offense continued to struggle. On the ensuing possession for the Gators, Charleston’s AJ Wren picked off a pass by Moore and ran it 20 yards to put the Tigers on the board with 3:44 left in the third quarter. Northside’s defense shut down the Tigers on the 2-point conversion attempt to keep the score at 8-6 in favor of Northside. The Gators’ offense struggled in the second half as the Tigers picked off three passes.
Northside’s defense had to stand firm. After the Gators threw their third interception of the half, they had another huge play on defense as Tyrese Greyer picked off a pass to give the Gators the ball back. Later in the game, Northside’s Justin Hudson recorded a sack on fourth down to force a turnover on downs giving Northside the ball back again. With eight seconds left in the contest, Northside put the final nail in the coffin as Greyer intercepted his second pass of the game and returned it for a touchdown to make the score 14-6.
During their 17-game winning streak dating back to last year, the Gators have given up eight or fewer points in every game of the streak.
“We felt like they couldn’t score on us,” Coach Johnson said. “We felt like if we score one touchdown, we can win the ball game. It just so happens the defense came through, and I’m just happy to be apart of it.”
Greyer led the Gators’ defense with two interceptions including one returned for a touchdown, followed by Jaylon Johnson and Latham with an interception each.
On offense, Burrage caught four passes for 57 yards with a touchdown, Jalen Ward caught two passes for 51 yards, DeVes Seaberry caught three passes for 16 yards, Greyer caught a pass for 20 yards and Latham caught a pass for 11 yards to lead all Northside receivers.
Moore completed 11-of-24 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions and scored a two-point conversion, and Semaj Daniels and Thaddeus Latham did a good job of running the ball in the second half to aid the Gators.
On special teams, Cordarrian Hickman did a great job of punting the ball as the Gators won the field position battle.