RIPLEY • Pontotoc started fast and held off a second-half flurry from Ripley to defeat the Tigers 32-15 on Friday in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“I challenged them all week to play fast early. Don't let them bring the tempo to us, let's go attack, attack, attack," said Pontotoc head coach Jeff Carter. "We got on our heels last time against them, so I wanted us to just attack on both sides of the ball, and they got after it."
The Tigers went three-and-out to open the game, and a short punt set up the Warriors (10-1) up with good field position. Quarterback Conner Armstrong then completed a 20-yard pass to Nic Townsend. Three plays later Jemarkus Whitfield capped a short drive with a 7-yard TD run.
Pontotoc defensive back Marty Reel intercepted a pass on the ensuing possession and returned it to the Ripley 27. Pontotoc immediately took a shot, with 6-foot-3 wideout Kyleal McShan hauling in a jump ball for a 27-yard touchdown.
On the next Warrior drive, McShan hauled in another pass, breaking free for a 74-yard TD. Eddie Nolasco booted through the extra point to extend the lead to 21-0 with 2:10 to play in the first quarter.
Ripley (4-7) then steadied the ship, keeping the big plays at bay and holding the Warriors scoreless the rest of the half. The Warriors threatened a few minutes into the second quarter after linebacker Jonah Mahan recovered a fumble, but they were unable to add to their lead.
On their final drive of the first half, Tigers quarterback Ty Long was 3 for 3 for 65 yards. He found Jabez Johnson for a 22-yard TD with 32 seconds left to cut the deficit to 21-7.
After a long Pontotoc drive to open the second half, the Tigers held the Warriors to a 25-field goal by Eddie Noalsco.
Ripley then quickly drove for a score, with Senatavius Hunt breaking free from 21 yards out. A two-point conversion made it 24-15 with 4:38 to play in the third, but that was as close as the Tigers would come.
The Tiger defense then forced a Pontotoc punt. Ripley was driving, having crossed midfield, when a penalty and bad snap led to a turnover on downs. Pontotoc capitalized on a short field. Marty Reel had 34-yard reception that put the ball on the 1-yard line, with Jordan Ball running it in on third and goal. McShan converted the two-point conversion on a reverse, and the Warriors went up 32-15 at the 9:22 mark of the fourth quarter.
McShan only caught two passes in the game, but they went for 101 yards and 2 TDs. Armstrong completed 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards and 2 TDs. Pontotoc had three interceptions on the night, two by Reel and one by Nic Townsend.
"I was proud of the way the entire team played," coach Carter said. "Kyleal McShan had a great game, and Conner threw some nice balls. We forced four turnovers, so it was a big night for the defense. We met our goal, which is always to keep them under 17. Our special teams played well also. It was a just a complete win."
The Warriors (10-1) host Louisville (10-1) on Friday night. It will be the third-straight postseason meeting between the schools, with the Wildcats having won the past two seasons.