The Pearl Pirates football team hosted their Rankin Country rivals, the Brandon Bulldogs, on the school’s campus in Pearl, Miss., on Friday, October 20, 2023.

Sponsored by:
PriorityOne Bank
Burgers Blues Barbecue – Brandon
Belle Meade Family Dental
Alliant Construction
Noel Daniels Motor Company

By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd

       Brandon senior quarterback Landon Varnes said his teammate Jay McQueen is flying under the radar, as if to say he isn’t getting much attention or publicity.

       That all changed Friday night.

       McQueen, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior wide receiver who was Varnes’ backup at quarterback last season, had a breakout game with five touchdown catches – one short of the Mississippi record – from Varnes to lead Brandon to a 42-20 victory over Pearl in the Rankin County Super Bowl in a MHSAA Class 7A, Region 3 game before an overflow crowd of more 6,000 at Pearl’s Ray Rogers Stadium.

       Brandon – the Class 6A state runner-up for the past two seasons – won its sixth straight game after losing its first two game and improved to 3-0 in region play. The Bulldogs are the only undefeated team in the region. Pearl dropped to 6-2 overall and 1-2 in region play, tied with Northwest Rankin for fourth place. If the season ended today, Pearl would not make the playoffs since Northwest Rankin defeated Pearl.

       McQueen had only caught 15 passes for 217 yards and two TDs this season but was receiving star Friday night. He caught eight passes for 158 yards and scored on TD receptions of 85 yards, 20 yards, 12 yards and 5 yards.  McQueen broke the school record for most TD catches in a single game, previously held by Ashton Nickleberry, who caught four in 2019.

       McQueen played quarterback in five games and completed 6 of 8 passes for 59 yards last season.

       More well known for his baseball skills, the outfielder is a Southern Miss commitment and made the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard All Metro Jackson Team this spring.

       “Jay is a super athletic guy who is very under the radar right now,” said Varnes, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College commitment who completed 22 of 33 passes for 264 yards and five TDs. “Jay made huge plays all night.”

       “Jay was Landon’s backup last year at quarterback and we saw flashes of his athleticism in practice and decided to try him at wide receiver this spring,” Brandon offensive coordinator Wyatt Rogers said. “He didn’t get to practice spring football much because of baseball but had a good spring game. He’s been coming into his own this fall.”

       Pearl led 17-14 at half, but Brandon caught fire in the third quarter and never looked back.

       “We made some small adjustments at half on offense and defense that really paid off in the second half,” Brandon coach Sam Williams said. “Jay and Landon were clicking and making huge plays on the offense, and the defense had two huge interceptions (Russell Robbins and Jonathan Crain) and overall, we played much cleaner in the second half than the first. I am proud of our kids and the fight they showed to overcome the slow start. We are slowly learning how to find different ways to win, which will pay off in the coming weeks.”

       Said Rogers: “We were sleepwalking in the first half. We didn’t match Pearl’s intensity. Some of that might have been the crowd. There were fans everywhere and it was a great atmosphere and Pearl was feeding off of it. But we got refocused, hit some plays and got some turnovers.”

       And Varnes and McQueen kept clicking. Varnes has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 1,585 yards and 16 TDs this season.

“Landon has grown up so much since his sophomore year,” Rogers said. “When it is time to take a game over,he always steps up to the plate. Landon goes a great job of elevating the players around him. Others don’t realize what a great job he does. He made an incredible play in the third quarter when he checked and made a great throw on a slant. He recognized the defense that that route would be open and changed the play for a TD and a 28-17 lead. He’s just scratching the surface as a quarterback.”

       Pearl was trying to break a two-year losing streak to Brandon. The Pirates lost 49-35 last season and 38-7 two years ago. For the first half, it looked like Pearl was on its way.

       “We played really good football in the first half,” Pearl coach Justin Hunter said. “We played with good emotion and discipline. In the second half, we let the emotions of the game get to us and were not as mentally tough we needed to be. I was proud of our team for the fifth we had and how far we have come. We have to regroup and get ready for the next one. Brandon has a really good football team.”

       Pearl sophomore quarterback Jack Durr ran for 150 yards and two TDs and passed for 104 yards.