In 2018, the Pelahatchie Chiefs took the field against Bay Springs in the second round of football playoffs on a 10-game winning streak. They had just routed West Lincoln 55-6 the previous week and were poised for a trip to the state championship. On the first play of the game, the Chiefs set the tone with an onside kick recovery by Garrett Day. Senior quarterback Javeious Purvis immediately went to work and soon connected with Kelriz Stokes for a touchdown. The Chiefs seemed focused and prepared. The first half proved to be an offensive battle leaving Pelahatchie down 6 points at the half. But the team went scoreless in the third quarter and despite a valiant fourth quarter push, Pelahatchie would fall to Bay Springs 49-43. It was a heartbreaking loss and the memories still linger a year later. However, the Chiefs have a second chance to get it right and they have no intention of wasting it.
“Our whole mantra this year has been ‘Don’t let it end that way,’ ” said head coach Sam Williams. “We’ve been really preaching making one game seasons. It’s all about finding a way to win. We didn’t do that last year.”
The Chiefs are ready for what has the potential to be a successful playoff run. The team is on a seven game winning streak In Williams’ third year leading the Chiefs. The team is 10-2 and again undefeated in district. MaxPreps has them ranked 10th in Class 2A. Pelahatchie plays host to East Webster, 10-1, Friday night in a second round game.
The group is an interesting mixture of youth and seniority. There are 12 seniors on the roster, many who have been with the program since they were freshmen. In their four-year tenure, they have experienced a season with a 2-8 record, a season where they improved to .500, and now two winning seasons with only 4 losses. The myriad of experiences has solidified their belief in themselves and each other. It has also propelled senior Division 1 prospects Ahmad Johnson and Ian Jackson, to become key leaders for the Chiefs.
Jackson, a hybrid player, is an option at corner, safety and wideout. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Jackson has seven interceptions placing him fourth in the state in that category. He also has five touchdowns and has deflected 16 passes.
What Jackson does on defense, Johnson amplifies on offense. He leads the state in scoring and touchdowns and is third in total yards. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Johnson is a presence on the field. He has 41 touchdowns and averages 21 points per game. He dominates the run game and is difficult to tackle.
“He is the kind of kid that gives opposing coaches nightmares,” said Williams, who played linebacker at Northwest Rankin and Mississippi State and was an assistant at Northwest Rankin before coming to Pelahatchie.
The on field production of the two, who have been friends since childhood, has been a key element in how the team has fared this season and much of it stems from their dedication to bettering themselves, their team and their craft.
“I had to grow up, get better in practice and become a leader and help (Ian) out,” said Johnson, who has verbally committed to Louisiana-Lafayette. “We work (out) together a lot and do things outside of school and in the classroom to be great.”
Jackson added, “I put in a lot of hard work in practice and staying after school and working on my craft.”
The leadership and experience they bring is critical because many of the team’s other key players are young. First year quarterback Quay Ragsdale is a sophomore. The only freshman named to 2A All-State team last year, Ragsdale played free safety for the Chiefs last season. His move to quarterback meant filling the very big shoes of Purvis, now a safety at Mississippi State. Ragsdale has risen to the challenge and is quickly evolving into the leader his team and coach expects. He has thrown for 7 touchdowns and rushed for 11.
“He has really developed into a quarterback and is a great runner,” Williams said. “The fluidity he has at free safety translates over to running the football on offense.”
The Chiefs defensive line, which Williams believes is one of the best in the state, is led by junior twin linebackers Matthew and Garrett Day with help from sophomore Kenner Doster. The defense has caused seven fumbles, recovered eight and accumulated 23 sacks.
“We’ve got some really good talent. There are (other) guys who don’t fill up the stat sheet, but are equally as important as the guys making 150 tackles on the year. We have a talented sophomore group.”
Williams, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, believes that Pelahatchie’s win column has much less to do with Xs and Os and more to do with a group of young men who are like family to each other.
“They’ve learned to love each other,” he said. “Any coach that is being honest will tell you that you can have as good a scheme as you want to on offense or defense. Until you get a group of guys that are playing together and playing for each other, you’re not going to be a very good football team.”
“Every day after practice we say the Lord’s Prayer and we always break down on family and brother because everyone out there is family and each brother has another brother’s back,” Johnson said.
Both Johnson and Jackson will end their high school football careers with appearances in the Bernard Blackwell North/South All-Star game on December 21st in Gulfport. However, before then the two are hoping to play their last game in a Pelahatchie uniform in the 2A state championship.