By Andy Collier
BC Sports Editor
HATTIESBURG — Everyone has to lose sometime.
After posting a perfect record through 14 games going into the Mississippi High School Activities Association 2A State Football Championship Game, the Northside High School Gators had to settle for a 14-1 season as they lost to the Taylorsville High School Tartars 49-18 here Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.
The loss also wrapped up a 17-game winning streak dating back to last year, while Taylorsville finished the season at 15-1. The state championship was Taylorsville’s second in three years and seventh overall. The Tartars appeared in their third consecutive state championship game.
The Tartars had a deadly ground game as they ran for 235 yards on 36 carries, while the Gators ran for just 42 yards on 30 carries. Overall on offense, the Tartars racked up 359 yards on 54 total plays, while the Gators had 167 yards on 51 plays. The Tartars were 7-for-7 on PAT kicks, while the Gators were 0-for-3 on two-point conversions. The Gators turned the ball over twice, while the Tartars had no turnovers.
Northside had plenty of support as many fans came to cheer on the Gators in their pursuit for the state championship. Northside just finished its second year as a program. The school, located in Shelby, was formed last year from the merger of John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Mound Bayou and Broad Street High School in Shelby.
Northside head coach Tavares Johnson, Sr. was proud of his team but would have liked a different result.
“We didn’t play as tough as we could have,” Johnson said. “We made some simple mistakes, but we kept fighting and that’s all you can ask them to do. When you play against a good ball team in the state championship game, you can’t have self-inflicted wounds.”
Taylorsville got the ball first to start the game. The Gators started the contest on the right foot defensively. On the opening snap, Northside put pressure on Taylorsville quarterback Ty Keyes with DeAnthony Brown and Oscar Price sacking him for a 13-yard loss to create a second-and-23 situation on the Tartars’ 4-yard line. The Tartars were forced to punt on fourth down, and the Gators were able to get the ball on the Tartars’ 45-yard line. Northside took advantage of the good field position as the Gators put together a 10-play drive that was capped off by a two-yard touchdown pass from Jaterrance Moore to Justin Hudson with 5:29 on the clock. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Northside led 6-0.
The Tartars battled right back as Tyrese Keyes returned the ensuing kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown with 5:16 on the clock. The point-after kick from Andi Briones was good, and the Tartars led 7-6.
The Gators’ offense answered back by putting together a solid drive that was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from Moore with 2:11 left to play. The two-point conversion was no good, but Northside led 12-7, which would be the score after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the momentum started to change its address. The Taylorsville defense forced a fumble with Chanton McCray making the recovery to give the Tartars the ball at the Northside 36-yard line.
The Tartars’ offense went back to work. With 9:09 left in the second quarter, Travis Keyes marched on a 7-yard TD run. The kick from Briones was good, and the Tartars led 14-12.
Things went downhill for Northside in the quarter as the offense went cold. Taylorsville scored two more touchdowns on a 30-yard run from Jeffery Pittman and a 13-yard run from Ty Keyes. The PAT kick from Briones was good after each score, and the Tartars led 28-12 at halftime.
In the second half for Taylorsville, Pittman scored on a two-yard run in the third quarter and a 12-yard run in the fourth quarter. The PAT kick from Briones was good both times to increase the Tartars’ lead to 42-12 with 8:15 left to play.
Northside scored its final touchdown with 8:15 on the clock as Moore connected with Jalen Ward on a 14-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion was no good, but Northside cut the deficit to 42-18.
Taylorsville put some more points on the board, as Travis Keyes charged into the end zone on a three-yard run. The PAT from Briones was good once again to make the score 49-18 with 7:24 left to play.
The Gators outgained the Tartars on total yards of offense 100-9 in the first quarter, but the Tartars outgained the Gators 350-67 the rest of the way.
“It’s sad we didn’t play our very best football on this stage, but we have to learn from this and get back to the drawing board and get better,” Johnson said.
Pittman was named the MVP of the game as he rushed for 113 yards with three touchdowns on 13 carries to lead the Tartars. Travis Keyes rushed for 84 yards with two touchdowns on 11 carries and Ty Keyes ran for 50 yards with a touchdown on 10 carries and completed 12-of-18 passes for 124 yards to aid the offense.
On defense for Taylorsville, Hunter Lee recorded eight tackles with 1.5 tackles-for-loss to lead the way, followed by Ty Boland with seven tackles and a pass break-up, Zarian McGill with five tackles including 1.5 tackles-for-loss, Tyrese Keyes with five tackles including a tackle-for-loss, Karson Evans with five tackles and an interception and McCray with five tackles and a fumble recovery.
For Northside on offense, Karltavis Burrage led the Gators by catching nine passes for 84 yards. Moore completed 15-of-21 passes for 125 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, Thaddeus Latham ran for 30 yards on four carries, Daniels rushed for 27 yards on 10 carries, Ward caught two passes for 22 yards and a touchdown and Hudson caught two passes for nine yards with a score to help spearhead the Gators.
On defense for Northside, Cordarrian Hickman led the way with 10 total tackles including two tackles-for-loss and a sack, followed by Brown with nine tackles including 0.5 tackles-for-loss with two forced fumbles, TreShun Johnson with eight tackles including 0.5 tackles-for-loss, Price with four tackles including 1.5 tackles-for-loss with 0.5 sacks, Ward with five tackles including 0.5 tackles-for-loss and Terrick Latham with five tackles.
“All year long, they answered the bell,” Coach Johnson said about his team. “They fought as hard as they could, but we just fell short tonight. We know where we need to get better. We’ll strive in the offseason to try and get better so we won’t feel this way again.”