Winona Christian School football coach Junior Graham thought last week’s game with Carroll might be decided by penalties.
Turns out that turnovers told the tale.
The Stars took advantage of four Carroll turnovers as Winona Christian claimed the Division 1-AA title with a 34-21 win over the homestanding Rebels on Friday night.
With the win, Winona improves to 6-3 on the season and finish 4-0 in 1-AA play while Carroll falls to 6-3 on the season. Winona will host Winston for senior night while Carroll will host Central Holmes with playoff positioning on the line.
“It was a big night for Winona Christian football,” Head Coach Junior Graham said. “We won the district my first year here, but this team is the polar opposite. This is a grind-it-out kind of team and defensively, we run to the football. I thought we came into the game with a very simple game plan on both sides of the ball and executed it for the most point. But the difference was really turnovers. We hadn’t seen them turn the ball over at all and they didn’t secure the ball very well.”
The tone for the game was set early when Carroll fumbled on its first series, giving the Stars the ball at the Rebel 44. Four plays later, Corley Goss scored on a 35-yard run. The try for two failed, and Winona took a 6-0 lead.
The Rebels answered right back as they went on an eight-play, 65-yard drive. Hunter Brackin capped off the drive with a five-yard run, and Gavin Wiltshire booted the PAT to give the Rebels a 7-6 lead midway through the first quarter.
The score stayed at 7-6 until midway through the second quarter when the Stars took the lead for good. Winona finished off a seven-play, 63-yard drive as Latham Hill hit Choice Diffey on a short bubble pass that the wide receiver turned into a 35-yard touchdown. The try for two failed, and Winona led 12-7.
The Rebels had a chance to take the lead before the half as Wiltshire intercepted a Hill pass, giving Carroll the ball at the Winona 16. But the Rebels turned the ball over on downs as the Stars held onto the 12-7 lead at the half.
“That was monumental going into the half,” Graham said. “They had the ball deep in our territory with a chance to take the lead at the half. But they are a lot like us. They like to throw it when they want to throw it, not when they have to.”
Things turned south for the Rebels to begin the third quarter as they fumbled on their first possession, as Holland Ingram recovered a Brackin fumble at the Rebel 15. Five plays later, Hill hit Diffey on a 15-yard touchdown pass on a short bubble route. Hill ran in the two-point conversion, and Winona led 20-7.
The Rebels gave the ball right back as Reese Oliver recovered a fumble at the Carroll 26. Six plays later, Goss scored on an 8-yard run and Blake Marlow ran in the two-point conversion to give Winona a 28-7 lead.
“Turnovers just killed us,” Carroll Coach Bo Milton said. “We turned it over twice right there, and that put us in a hole. We have them some short fields and they took advantage of it. When we had it inside their 15 before the half, we didn’t score and that was huge. It was a hard-fought game all around.”
That’s when things started to get interesting as Carroll struck paydirt as Morgan Mims hit Wiltshire on a 62-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was good to cut the lead to 28-14.
The Rebels then recovered the ensuing kick and put together a nine-play, 43-yard drive as Jeb Beck scored on a 10-yard run early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 28-21 before an enthusiastic crowd.
The Rebels got the ball right back when Winona fumbled the ensuing kick. But the Winona defense held and forced a punt. The Stars then responded with a 10-play, 65-yard drive as Goss scored on a 9-yard run. The try for two failed for the final margin of 34-21.
“That place was rocking at that point,” Graham said. “They had all the momentum and a chance to tie the game. But our defense stepped up and got a stop and our offense responded with a big drive to put the game away. I couldn’t be more proud of the way our kids responded in that situation to wrap up the district championship.”
The Rebels had 241 yards of total offense with 159 on the ground and 82 in the air. Brackin led the rushing attack with 58 yards on 13 carries while Beck had 46 yards on 10 carries. Wiltshire had 32 yards rushing on two carries and one catch for 62 yards. Mims had 23 yards rushing on seven carries and was just 3-of-10 passing for 82 yards. Reese Fulton led the defense with seven tackles while Logan Hodges and Logan Taylor each had six stops apiece.
Meanwhile, Winona had 310 yards of total offense with 231 yards rushing on 43 attempt and 78 passing. Goss led all rushers with 203 yards on 31 carries and three TDs while Diffey had 54 yards receiving on three catches for two TDs. Hill was 5-of-8 passing for 78 yards and two TDs. Hayden Self led the defense with 13 tackles while Colby Marlow was credited with 12 stops. Holland Ingram had 11 tackles while Blake Marlow had 10 stops. Oliver had nine tackles and two fumble recoveries for the Stars as well.
The Stars will end the regular season as they host Winston Academy for senior night.
The Patriots are 2-7 on the season under first-year coach Pat Byrd. The Patriots have wins over Newton County Academy (29-14) and East Rankin (15-14). Their losses have been to Sylva Bay (6-0), Copiah (42-10), Indianola (34-0), Starkville (28-2), Canton (28-12), Heritage (35-7) and Leake (43-8).
“They play hard, they just don’t have a ton of talent,” Graham said. “Our kids need to realize that this is an important game. With a win, we would be the No. 2 seed. This game is humungous for us as far as power points are concerned. If can you be the No. 2 seed, you feel like you have a good chance. It’s a big game for us for different reason but mainly because of power points.”
Meanwhile, Carroll has a more difficult task at hand as they take on rival Central Holmes for senior night.
The Trojans are 6-2 on the season but lost to Winona 20-12 in the third week of the season to give the Stars the Division 2-AA title. Their other loss is to Hatley (48-21). They have wins over Amite (36-22), Deer Creek (34-0), Benton (34-8), Marshall (64-34), St. Aloysius (28-14) and Oak Hill (35-7).
“They will be well coached and will play hard,” Milton said. “They are 6-2 and are playing for No. 2 in the district and playoff seeding. They have gotten better as the year has went on. We will have to play a good game and get over this one and move on to this week. I know we can’t turn the ball over and have to get ready to win this game and then we will worry about the playoffs.”