Photo by Jared Thomas

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PriorityOne Bank
Belle Meade Family Dental

By Robert Wilson
Photos by Jared Thomas

       Brandon junior wide receiver Jay McQueen set a school record with five touchdown passes when the Bulldogs defeated Rankin County rival Pearl in the regular season meeting.

       It was Brandon junior wide receiver Quincy Phillips’ turn to set a school record this time against Pearl.

       Phillips caught 11 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns – nine passes for 143 yards and two TDs in the first half – and set a school record for most catches in a season and helped Brandon to a 42-25 victory over Pearl in the MHSAA Class 7A quarterfinals Friday night before an estimated 10,500 at Brandon’s Bulldog Stadium/Louis Strickland Field in Brandon.

       Brandon – the No. 1 seed in Region 3 – won its 10th straight game and improved to 10-2 and advanced to meet 10-1 Oak Grove – the No. 2 seed in Region 3 – Friday in the semifinals at Brandon. Oak Grove defeated Meridian 35-0 Friday in the quarterfinals. Brandon defeated Oak Grove 38-20 Oct. 13 at Oak Grove for Oak Grove’s only loss this season

       Phillips broke Jonathan Mingo’s school record of 77 catches when the former Ole Miss star and current NFL wide receiver had 1,451 yards and 14 TDs in 2018.

       Phillips has now caught 88 passes for 1,045 yards and 8 TDs this season.

       Phillips wasn’t the only star for Brandon Friday. Brandon freshman running back Tyson Robinson had 62 yards on four carries and three TDs. Senior quarterback and Mississippi Gulf Coast commitment Landon Varnes completed 18 of 27 passes for 219 yards and two TDs.

       Robinson scored on a 3-yard run for a 7-0 lead and Pearl answered when sophomore quarterback Jack Durr scored on a 2-yard run for a 7-7 tie.

Brandon ran off 21 straight points when Varnes completed two TD passes to McQueen of 15 and 11 yards and Robinson his second TD on a 6-yard run for a 28-7 lead. McQueen, who was Varnes’ backup a quarterback last season, caught five TD passes – one short of the Mississippi record – from Varnes to lead Brandon to a 42-20 victory Oct. 20 at Pearl. McQueen caught eight passes for 158 yards and broke the school record for most TD catches in a single game, previously held by Ashton Nickleberry, who caught four in 2019.

       Brandon senior running back and Louisiana-Monroe commitment Nate Blount scored on a 1-TD run and Robinson added his third TD on a 50-yard run for a 42-10 lead in the third quarter.

       “The guys had a great game,” said Brandon coach Sam Williams, who now has a remarkable 33-7 record in his three seasons at Brandon, including a 21-2 record at home. “We had a great gameplan that the staff put together and the kids executed it to perfection. I was super proud of all of our kids.

       “Our offensive skill players really did a great job of making plays. Nate was the focal point for Pearl on defense, but our players around him really took advantage of that attention. Landon did a phenomenal job of managing the game and distributing the ball.

       “We have seen a number of defensive guys step up over the last couple of weeks and play selfless football. We are peaking at the right time. (senior defensive lineman) Jaeden Calender, (senior defensive lineman) Jacobeius Spann, (senior defensive back) Jonathan Crain and (sophomore defensive back) Preston Ashley all played great against Pearl.”

       Pearl – the No. 3 seed from Region 3 – finished 8-4. Justin Hunter, in his fourth season as Pearl’s head coach after being John Perry’s offensive coordinator for six seasons, made one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Mississippi this season, taking his team from a two-win season last year to eight wins this year. His terrific turnaround reminds Rankin County high school football fans of Toby Collum’s turnaround at Northwest Rankin when he took the Cougars from a three-win season to a nine-win season and was named Metro Jackson Coach of the Year in 2020. A win over Brandon for Hunter would be an even bigger accomplishment.

Pearl won its first five games for only the second time since Coach Doug Merchant had back-to-back 9-0 and 6-0 starts in 1982 and 1983. The only other time since then was when Perry led the Pirates to the state championship and 16-0 season in 2017.

Hunter was disappointed at the result Friday but was happy about this year’s progress.

       “We had too many mistakes in all three phases of the game and you can’t do that against a good team like that,” Hunter said. “We knew we had to play a clean, efficient game to go over there and win. We didn’t do that. They are a really good team.

       “I feel like we took several steps this year in the direction we want to go. We just weren’t quite ready to get over the hump. Our guys will keep fighting and getting better. We want to coach and play in big games that matter. We have to find a way to win those in the future.”

       Pearl started 14 underclassmen this season, including sophomore quarterback Jack Durr, junior wide receiver-defensive back Kingi McNair, junior linebacker Kaleb Arterberry, junior defensive lineman Cam Hewitt, junior defensive end Tyler Jenkins and junior wide receiver-defensive back Marquel Lake.

       “We’ve got a great group coming back that have played a lot of football over the last two years and we think that experience will show,” Hunter said. “We have lots of leaders in this upcoming senior class.

       “I want to give a huge thank you to our seniors this past year who really paved the way for our younger guys in what we expect in the program.”