POPLARVILLE – Head coach Drew Gallant would be the first to say Pearl River has not played enough "Wildcat soccer" down the stretch of the regular season.
That changed Friday night.
With first place in the MACJC South and potential first-round bye hanging in the balance, the Wildcats came alive in the second half to stun visiting Jones College 4-3 on Sophomore Night at the PRCC soccer complex.
The victory puts PRCC (11-3, 6-2 MACJC South) in the driver's seat to win the South Division as Meridian -- which is 2-12 on the year and lost to Jones College 3-1 earlier in the season -- would have to upset JC on Monday to knock the Wildcats out of the top spot. Assuming PRCC holds onto the top seed, they won't play again until 2:30 p.m. next Saturday at JC, which is hosting the tournament.
"We went down 1-0 in the first 5 minutes and our guys kind of looked shell shocked," PRCC coach Drew Gallant said. "We held on until halftime and made some big changes that (assistant coach) J.P. Valadares suggested. Those led to some prime opportunities.
"The second half we looked more like our old selves."
Trailing 1-0 at the break after a Dalton Morgan goal, the Wildcats didn't take long to come alive in the second half. By the 50th minute, PRCC went from trailing to leading thanks to two own goals.
Joe Elliott (Leicester, England) sent a long free kick into the box from just inside midfield. A JC Bobcat attempted to head the ball out of danger but instead put it into the back of the net. Minutes later, Jevaun Ennis (Maypen, Jamaica) made the most of limited space along the goal line, dancing around a couple defenders before sending the ball off another Bobcat and into the back of the net for a second own goal.
"I really just wanted to get it on target to see what would happen," Ennis said.
The goal extended the sophomore's goal lead on the team to 13.
"Everything really revolved around Jevaun tonight," Gallant said. "He was beating kids nonstop all night, going inside of them and outside of them."
Bo Bowman (Bay St. Louis; Bay) extended PRCC's advantage to 3-1. Kealan Baggett (Ocean Springs) threaded a pass through traffic to Bowman, who was coming back across the goal mouth. The movement pulled the JC (10-2, 5-2) keeper out and Bowman touched it around the exposed Bobcat.
After Justis Casey got JC back within a goal at 3-2, the Wildcats struck back in the 81st minute. Once again Elliott served a strong kick into the box from near the PRCC dugout. Daminik White (Kingston, Jamaica) knocked the ball down in traffic and then blasted it past the sprawled keeper to go ahead 4-2.
"The keeper had absolutely no chance on that one," Gallant said.
Malachi Harrison scored five minutes later to pull the Bobcats back within one but with the game on the line and around 63 seconds remaining, goalkeeper Kobe Lie (Hattiesburg; North Forrest) made perhaps his biggest save of the night. Tracking the JC attack down the right side, the Bobcats sent a ball into the box.
"I saw one of their players go up and put a good header on it," Lie said. "I saw it start going over my head a bit, so I knew I had to try and get up and push it over the bar. I just extended my arm out and got it over."
Lie had to contort his body to push the ball over the cross bar for his sixth – and biggest – save of the evening.
"That was classic Kobe," Gallant said. "That was a big save. That's why he's so good and getting so much attention, also."
With the first-round bye clinched, the Wildcats can use the extra time to rest before they officially open their MACJC Tournament title defense Saturday at Jones College.
Oct. 12: Jones College at Pearl River
Oct. 12: Wildcats Sophomore Night