By Robert Wilson
Picayune – which has won the MHSAA Class 5A state championship for the past two years – made the three-hour trip to Brandon Friday night with a 26-game winning streak, tied for the 14th longest active streak in the country.
Thanks to a workhorse performance by senior running back and Stanford commitment Chris Davis (37 carries, a career-high 223 yards and 3 touchdowns), Picayune left Brandon riding a 27-game winning streak and a statement that it could definitely win a third straight state championship.
Picayune defeated Brandon 28-21 in the one of the biggest season openers ever in Rankin County between two teams which have played in state championship games for the past two seasons and are definite possibilities to reach there again this season in their respective classes.
Picayune hasn’t lost since the fourth game of the 2021 season and the way it played Friday doesn’t look like it will lose this season. Brandon dropped its second consecutive game, losing to Starkville 48-32 in the MHSAA Class 6A state championship game last season.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Davis – rated the No. 28 player in Mississippi by 247 Sports who has 21 Division I offers, including seven from the SEC – put on a display of endurance, speed, elusiveness and grit, with his 37 carries in the heat and humidity, which had a heat index of more than 90 for most of the game. Davis, who decommited from Ole Miss this summer and committed to Stanford, scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-0 Picayune lead with 7 minutes, 7 seconds to play in the first quarter, ran for an 8-yard TD for a 14-7 lead with 2:12 to play in the third quarter and added a 6-yard TD for a 21-7 lead with 10:38 to play. Showing he still had energy at the end of the game, Davis ran for a 20-yard gain in the final minute after Brandon had cut the lead to 28-21 and was unsuccessful on an onside kick.
Brandon rallied from the 21-7 deficit in the final 10 minutes. Senior running back and Louisiana-Monroe commit Nate Blount – a member of the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – scored on a 37-yard run to close the lead to 21-14 with 8:43 to play. After Picayune pushed the lead to 28-14 on a 29-yard pass play from senior quarterback and Pearl River Community College baseball commit Brady Robertson to junior tight end Broderick Ducre with 3:29 to play, Brandon answered when senior quarterback and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC commit Landon Varnes completed a 4-yard TD pass to sophomore wide receiver Jay McQueen with 27 seconds to play. But an onside kick was unsuccessful and Picayune ran out the clock.
Varnes’ late TD pass – his second of the game – kept Brandon from having its least number of points scored since Williams started at Brandon in 2021.
Sam Williams – considered one of the top football coaches in Mississippi – believes playing early games against talented teams like Picayune will pay off later in the season, especially when it comes playoff time. He has come close to winning a state championship for the past two seasons at Brandon, losing to Madison Central and Starkville in the 6A state title game. He lost his first games to Oxford and Madison Central in his first games at Brandon in the 2021 and then won 11 straight before losing in the state title game.
“It was a good learning experience,” said Williams on the postgame radio interview on the Brandon Bulldog Network. “I would rather lose now then later in the year.”
Williams has a 60-20 career record (a 75.0 winning percentage) in his seventh season, including a 23-6 record at Brandon.
“It was tough loss,” Williams said. “We came out and played super aggressive and tried to extend the game, but just couldn’t make the plays to match up with the strategy. I want to give a ton of credit to Picayune. They have a lot of great football players and are a championship team. We both approached it like a playoff game and the energy and effort matched that. We will clean up our mistakes. We lacked discipline and we will be a better version of ourselves next week (against Madison Central).”
Brandon is still one of the favorites to win the newly formed Class 7A state championship.
The Bulldogs have 11 returning starters (six on offense and five on defense) and have more Elite 11 players than any other team, Varnes, Blount, senior defensive end Jaeden Calender and senior kicker-punter and Hartfield Academy transfer Connor Mullins. In addition, senior offensive lineman and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC commit Cade Shivers is a transfer from Briarcrest Christian in Memphis will give experience to Brandon’s offensive front.