East Cen­tral Hor­nets are sit­ting pretty with 2nd round win

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY PA­TRICK MAGEE

HUR­LEY

Seth Smith planted a kiss on the cheek of each one of his de­fen­sive as­sis­tants after Fri­day night’s game.

The East Cen­tral head coach again had rea­son to be thank­ful for the play of what has be­come the most dom­i­nant D in all of Class 4A.

“I’ll kiss ‘em ev­ery day,” Smith said. “They play like that, that don’t bother me a bit.”

The Hor­nets ral­lied with a pair of touch­downs in the sec­ond half to take down Greene County 17-7 on a cold, damp and windy night in the sec­ond round of the Class 4A play­offs in Hur­ley.

East Cen­tral will host West Laud­erdale (12-1) in the third round and is in po­si­tion to po­ten­tially play four con­sec­u­tive home games in the play­offs prior to the Dec. 1 Class 4A state ti­tle game in Hat­ties­burg.

West Laud­erdale topped Florence 42-14 on Fri­day night to ad­vance.

If East Cen­tral (11-0) gets past West Laud­erdale, it will play the win­ner of South Pike-Po­plarville. If Po­plarville and East Cen­tral win out, there will be an­other Hor­net Bowl bat­tle in the Class 4A South State ti­tle game and it will take place in Hur­ley.

While East Cen­tral has an at­trac­tive sit­u­a­tion go­ing for­ward in the play­offs, the Hor­nets had to scratch and claw just to get out of the sec­ond round against Greene County.

East Cen­tral didn’t take the lead un­til se­nior run­ning back Cameron Gray fi­nally broke through the line for a 38-yard touch­down run with 36 sec­onds re­main­ing in the third quar­ter, giv­ing the Hor­nets a 10-7 ad­van­tage.

“The O-line did a great job and our 600-pound squat quar­ter­back (Will Young) led the way and blocked two guys,” he said.

For Gray, Fri­day’s game proved to be a break­out per­for­mance after he missed five games early in the sea­son with a bro­ken fibula. He fin­ished with a sea­son high of 141 yards on 22 car­ries.

“It’s a joy be­cause he’s a phe­nom­e­nal kid,” Smith said of watch­ing his se­nior put to­gether a big game. “Any­time you see a kid like that come back from in­jury and have a game like this, I’m just happy for him and happy for the team.”

It took about six weeks of phys­i­cal ther­apy for Gray to get back and he de­scribed him­self as “100 per­cent” healthy Fri­day night.

If East Cen­tral is to earn its sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Class 4A South State ti­tle, it will be up to Gray and ju­nior run­ning back Dy­lan Grin­stein­ner to pro­vide big yardage on the ground. Gray was ex­pected to pro­vide the home run threat after the grad­u­a­tion of the 2017 Sun Her­ald Player of the Year, Tony Brown, and he showed glimpses of that big-play threat Fri­day night.

“I’m just try­ing to stretch it out and get bet­ter ev­ery game,” Gray said.

DE­FEN­SIVE AD­JUST­MENT

The East Cen­tral de­fense al­lowed Greene County to move the ball early on, in­clud­ing a four­play, 41-yard drive that ended in a 4-yard touch­down run by San­tez Camp­bell to make it 7-0 with 4:26 left in the first quar­ter.

The scor­ing play was set up by a 30-yard com­ple­tion on a screen play from ju­nior quar­ter­back Ja­cob Mitchell to Camp­bell.

East Cen­tral ju­nior line­backer Zach Jones ad­mit­ted that he was the Hor­net who had the blown cov­er­age on the play, al­low­ing Camp­bell to pick up big yardage.

“Ev­ery time any­body scores on us we take it per­sonal,” Jones said. “That fires us up to play.”

Greene County went back to the screen play sev­eral times in the game and Jones was ready for it in the fourth quar­ter when he leaped high to in­ter­cept a pass from a scram­bling Camp­bell.

“I read the screen play. I saw it com­ing,” Jones said. “I saw his eyes and I jumped up. I was happy to be there at the right time.”

Se­nior line­backer Av­ery White led the East Cen­tral de­fense with 17 tack­les and Jones had 11, in­clud­ing three for neg­a­tive yardage.

Not long after the Jones in­ter­cep­tion, Grin­stein­ner fi­nally broke through the Greene County line for a 40-yard touch­down to give East Cen­tral a 17-7 lead with 5:34 re­main­ing.

Grin­stein­ner fin­ished with 16 car­ries for 87 yards.

“You have to give (Greene County) a ton of credit,” coach Smith said.

PA­TRICK MAGEE pmagee@sun­her­ald.com

East Cen­tral coach Seth Smith cel­e­brates with his play­ers after beat­ing Greene County 17-7 in the sec­ond round of the Class 4A South State play­offs on Fri­day in Hur­ley.

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