It was hard to tell which team was the playoff team and which team was the one that will be packing up the gear.
Ocean Springs looked more like the team that was picked to finish third in Region 4-6A and less like the one that lost four region games by a combined 14 points Friday night at D.I. Patrick Stadium, rolling over Hattiesburg 27-6.
But because of those four defeats, the Greyhounds (6-5 overall, 3-4 region) will be sitting at home for the playoffs, while the Tigers (4-7, 4-3) will be preparing for next week’s Class 6A first-round showdown at Oak Grove.
“The way Ocean Springs played tonight, they’re probably the team that deserves to be in the playoffs,” said HHS coach Tony Vance. “They did a good job tonight. They did a heck of a lot better than we did.”
That was especially true after the Greyhounds hit Hattiesburg with three quick scores right before halftime that took the emotional starch out of the Tigers.
“This was a bit like the playoffs, like our bowl game,” said Ocean Springs coach Ryan Ross. “We just hurt ourselves with some close losses in some region games. But I think we’re a good football team.”
The game turned around early in the second quarter after the Tigers got a pair of fumble recoveries – one on a pass play and the other on a muffed punt – but could do nothing with them.
After stopping Hattiesburg’s Quavier Hammond for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-3 from the Greyhound 21-yard-line, Ocean Springs got its offense in gear.
Junior quarterback Ed Day found Tate Pepper and Austin Williams for gains of 22 and 17 yards, then hit junior tailback Andrew Warren on a swing pass to the left side, and Warren motored right on into the end zone for the 24-yard scoring play.
After a three-and-out, the Greyhounds drove to the Tiger 13 before settling on Brad Wall’s 30-yard field goal with 1:13 to play in the first half.
Ocean Springs forced another three-and-out, and the Hounds blocked the ensuing punt, with sophomore linebacker Vincent Milanese recovering at the Hattiesburg 4-yard-line.
And Milanese added to his effort by catching a 3-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with 11 seconds to play before half.
“We told our guys all week to just go out there and play with class, show effort and character,” said Ross.
Hattiesburg got the ball to start the second half, but another three-and-out and a short punt gave the Greyhounds another short field for a four-play, 38-yard drive.
The score was a mirror image of Ocean Springs’ first touchdown, a swing pass to Warren, who zipped through the right side of the Tigers’ defense for a 27-yard play.
“We just saw it the middle of the game and exploited it,” said Warren. “It’s a little bittersweet, but this will just motivate us to work hard, come back next year and compete for district.”
Hattiesburg only totaled 144 yards of offense, and much of that came on its only scoring drive, a 10-play, 62-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter, with Julian Conner passing to Willie Hartfield for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
The try for a two-point conversion was intercepted in the end zone by the Greyhounds.
The Tigers held Ocean Springs to 175 yards of offense, including just 69 yards on the ground, but the Greyhounds were particularly effective on third down, converting 10 of 18, including both TD passes to Warren.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you don’t come out and prepare to play, you’re likely going to get beat,” said Vance. “And that’s what happened to us tonight.”