(Scroll down for gallery)
Photos by Chris Todd
Story by Robert Wilson
Madison Central – playing without its starting quarterback Vic Sutton and its starting running back Robert Dumas Jr. – won its first MHSAA Class 6A state championship since 1999 Friday night at Southern Miss’ M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. Juniors Jake Norris and De’Andre Pullen – both backups at quarterback and running back during the regular season – led the way and carried Madison Central to a 24-17 victory over Brandon for the 6A state title.
Madison Central finished 13-1 – its only loss a 35-28 decision in the final minute at Starkville – and won its first title since Coach Mike Justice led a talented group, many who went on the play in the NFL, in 1999. The Jaguars had been to the semifinals nine times since then but hadn’t been back to the state title game until this season.
Brandon, playing without starting running back Nate Blount (out with an injury), finished 11-3, snapped its 11-game winning streak, and was denied its first state championship. Brandon had been to the state title game one other time, losing to South Panola 31-23 in 2012. Brandon hadn’t lost a game since a 42-19 decision at Madison Central in early September.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Norris, who was a backup tight end during the regular season, scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run around the left end with 3 minutes, 41 seconds to play. He also completed 5 of 9 passes for 124 yards and one TD, a 79-yarder to junior Isaiah Spencer, and ran 11 times for 51 yards and the one score. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Pullen, who starts at outside linebacker, gained 132 yards on 25 carries and kept many drives alive with big runs. Norris had not passed or ran any this season and had caught eight passes for 106 yards and one TD as a backup tight end before replacing Sutton. Pullen finished the season with 1,114 yards and 17 TDs this season.
The duo was forced into the starting lineup at quarterback and running back after Sutton was injured in the first quarter of the quarterfinal playoff game against Oxford two weeks ago and Dumas was injured in the first-round playoff game against Desoto Central three weeks ago.
“Our kids never batted an eye (when the injuries happened),” first-year Madison Central coach Toby Collums said. “They had the next man up mentality.” Collums – who was the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year after turning around Northwest Rankin’s season in 2020 – won his first state title in his 11th season as a head coach. He has a 90-43 record, a 67.6 percent winning percentage, 31-14 in four seasons at Itawamba AHS and 46-28 in six seasons at Northwest Rankin. He has won 22 of his last 27 games, 9-4 his last year at Northwest Rankin and 13-1 his first year at Madison Central.
Brandon took the opening kickoff and drove 82 yards in eight plays and sophomore Landon Varnes completed a 23-yard pass to Lester Miller for a TD and a 7-0 lead. Miller caught eight passes for 170 yards. After sophomore Max Zuluaga made a 35-yard field (his eighth without a miss this season), Spencer scored on a 1-yard run for a 10-7 Madison Central lead with 5:48 to play before halftime. After senior Jalen Ballard kicked a 32-yard field goal for a 10-10 tie, Spencer caught his long TD catch to give Madison Central a 17-10 lead with 8:14 to play in the third quarter. Brandon answered with a 78-yard, 11-play drive with junior Jarvis Durr, who took Blount’s place in the starting lineup a few weeks ago, scoring on a 1-yard run for a 17-17 tie with 11:44 to play. Durr finished with 136 yards on 37 carries on the night and 1,120 yards and 16 TDs this season. Varnes completed 16 of 27 passes for 292 yards and one TD and finished the season with 2,296 yards and 16 TDs.
Madison Central senior linebacker Vic Hollins, who had a team-high 11 tackles, recovered a Brandon fumble at the Madison Central 48. The Jaguars drove down the field Norris scored for a 24-17 lead. Madison Central junior Braxton Barney sacked Varnes on third down, then on fourth down and 9 at the Brandon 23, Varnes completed an 8-yard pass to sophomore Josh Coe and Madison Central senior defensive back Kelsey Singleton made the tackle to stop Coe a yard short of the first down with 2 minutes to play. Madison Central ran out the clock to seal the victory.
Senior defensive lineman C.J. Barney and junior defensive back Chris Berry had 10 tackles and senior defensive back B.J. Washington had eight tackles for Madison Central. Senior outside linebacker Anthony Griffith and senior middle linebacker Cooper Jenkins had nine tackles each to lead Brandon.
For Brandon, it was a remarkable turnaround from last year when the Bulldogs finished 5-6. After losing to 2020 Class 6A runner-up Oxford and Madison Central to open the season, Brandon won 11 straight games, including defeating defending 6A state champion Oak Grove twice, the last one a 21-20 win in last week’s semifinals.
“The guys fought really hard on the biggest stage,” first-year Brandon coach Sam Williams said. “The two best teams in the state went to war and we came up a little short. I was proud of the way our kids came out in the second half and responded to a really good first half by MC. We had our chances and we just couldn’t finish it off. Congrats to MC, but I wouldn’t trade my bunch for anyone. They played their hearts out for us every game this season and didn’t stop believing until the clock hit zero.”
Williams and Collums coached together for two seasons when Williams was offensive coordinator and Collums head coach before Williams became a head coach. Williams has a 48-17 record, a 73.8 percent winning percentage, in five seasons, 27-11 in three seasons at Pelahatchie and 10-3 in one season at Ridgeland. Williams has won 21 of his 27 games, 10-3 at Ridgeland and 11-3 at Brandon.
There has been only one other Class 6A state championship between Metro Jackson teams since 1999. Clinton, behind National High School Player of the Year and now Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers, defeated Pearl 49-35 in 2016. Akers, then a quarterback, passed for 228 yards and two TDs and ran for 217 yards and five TDs in one of the top performances in Mississippi football championship history.