PERKINSTON — No. 7 Mississippi Gulf Coast was less than five minutes from losing the MACCC South title on its home field to its archrivals.
In 31 seconds of game time, the Bulldogs ripped the hearts out of No. 11 Pearl River with a pair of lightning strikes for a 2-1 victory that earned them the right to host the MACCC Championship at Perkinston.
"It reminded me of the Jones game," Gulf Coast coach Chris Handy said. "I told them if they were capable of scoring three goals in six minutes there, you could go out and score two goals. It's amazing, for lack of a better word. I'm speechless."
Gulf Coast improved to 11-2 overall, 8-2 in the MACCC South with its ninth straight win. The Bulldogs finished a game ahead of PRCC (10-3, 7-3) and Jones (9-3, 7-3). JC won the tiebreaker, which means the Bobcats have to travel to Itawamba for a Tuesday quarterfinal game.
The Bulldogs get the winner in a semifinal on May 22, part of a two-day tournament at Bary Thrash Field that includes two women's semis, two men's semis and the finals on Sunday. More details will be released next week.
The first lightning strike of the game, however, was Pearl River's. They converted a midfield turnover less than a minute after kickoff for a 1-0 lead. It stayed that way until the 86th minute, when a sweeping move down the right flank by Ashton Taylor (Fr., Olive Branch/Center Hill) resulted in a pass to Alwayne Whittaker (Fr., Biloxi/Biloxi) who played James Redmond (So., Bremen, Germany/Oberschule Roter Sand) into the Bobcats' box. His deft chip tied it up.
After Pearl River kicked off to resume play, Gulf Coast forced a turnover of its own. Deon Travis (So., Madison/Madison Central) played a reverse pass to Abdul Omar (Fr., Madison/Germantown), who had space in the final third. His pass, however, deflected off a Bobcat right into the path of Whittaker, who powered in the game-winner exactly 31 seconds of game time after the first goal.
Handy didn't even remember the details of the goals until reminded. His team was pouring everything forward, and he had his hand on a substitute waiting to send him in. When the first goal went in, he didn't make that move, and the next followed immediately.
Before the game, Handy and his family celebrated having earned his 100th career win earlier in the week. If he can get to 103 before the end of the MACCC Tournament, he'll claim his first state championship.
"In such a unique year with COVID, they've been through all the training," Handy said. "To finally get to the point where we can try to accomplish something that we've struggled to accomplish, it's a relief to be able to do it at home. I don't know what to say."
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCBulldogs on Twitter and MGCCCBulldogs on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.
by Don Hammack
Sports Information Director
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College