Photos by Jared Thomas
Story by Robert Wilson
Justin Hunter is 1-0 as a head coach in the Rankin County Super Bowl.
Hunter, in his first year as head coach after six years as offensive coordinator at Pearl, led his Pirates to a 15-7 victory over Rankin County rival Brandon Friday night at Pearl.
Pearl, which bounced back from a 47-7 loss to top ranked and undefeated Oak Grove last week, improved to 4-6 and will be the No. 3 seed from Class 6A, Region 3 and advance to next week’s first round of the playoff. Pearl will go to 7-2 Harrison Central, the No. 2 seed from Region 4 and a 35-28 winner over Ocean Springs Friday. Brandon, which upset Northwest Rankin 42-21 last week, finished the season with a 4-6 record.
This series is one of the oldest and most intense high school football rivalries in Mississippi. The first meeting was in 1949 and ended in a 0-0 tie. The two teams have played each other every year except for 1953 and 1954. Brandon now leads the series 43-26-1 and has won 10 of the last 15 meetings. Pearl hadn’t won this game since 2017 when the Pirates went 16-0 and won the 6A state title. Brandon, behind Will Rogers’ 365 passing yards, beat Pearl 34-13 last year.
“We had lost to Brandon three years in a row and we wanted to win this one for the seniors,” said Pearl junior defensive lineman Jeremy Jackson on the Pearl Broadcasting Network. Jackson led the Pirates with eight tackles. “We didn’t the seniors to go home. We wanted them to go to the playoffs.”
Junior running back Jamari Thompson made sure of that. He had 35 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns for Pearl and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Quarterback Shade Foster completed 7 of 10 passes for 95 yards.
Junior defensive back Jeremy Johnson had two interceptions, including one with 2 minutes, 29 seconds to go to stop a potential tying drive by Brandon. Johnson intercepted the ball around the Pearl 30 and returned 40 yards before stepping out of bounds. Pearl was able to run out the clock to clinch the victory.
“Coach Hunter gave us a good speech before game,” Johnson said on the Pearl Broadcasting Network. “He had us hyped up all week. We wanted to put on a show.”
“Our kids played hard tonight,” Hunter said. “These jokers knew that this game meant a lot to a lot of people, students, teachers, parents, former players and the community. They will remember this night for the rest of their lives.”
Senior quarterback Jake Sullivan scored Brandon’s only TD to cut the Pearl lead to 8-7 in the second quarter.
Hunter defeated long time friend and Brandon head coach Tyler Peterson. Hunter was going to school at Mississippi State and was on then Louisville head coach Brad Peterson’s staff along Tyler Peterson, Brad’s first cousin, when Louisville won a state championship in 2007 and 2008. When Tyler Peterson took the head coaching job at Noxapater in 2009, he hired Hunter as assistant coach, his first coaching job out of school. Tyler Peterson and Hunter won a state championship at Noxapater in 2011. Tyler Peterson then took the head coaching job at Kosciusko and Hunter replaced him as the head coach at Noxapater.