By Brad Crowe
The Lil' Brown Jug is being showcased inside the Jimmy Bass Memorabilia Room at Laurel High School following the Tornadoes' 35-19 victory over the Hattiesburg Tigers on Friday.
The win was Laurel's 49th of the rivalry series and its first since 2014. Head coach Todd Breland said he and his team are proud to have brought the trophy back after its five-year stay in Hattiesburg.
"It feels great," said Breland. "I'm proud for the city, our team and our school. It's been a long time coming. It's been a great series. I think we're ahead by five (wins) now. Hats off to Hattiesburg for making us hold our breath for that last five minutes, but we were able to hold on and get the win."
The Tornadoes claimed a ton of momentum early in the evening with 14 unanswered points in the first quarter. The first score came on a 33-yard rush by Kiron Benjamin and the second was a 57-yard pass from Xavier Evans to Kanarius Johnson. The Tigers got on the board at the end of the first by recovering a misguided long snap in the end zone for a touchdown. Midway through the second period, Evans scrambled down the right sideline for a 53-yard touchdown run to give the Tornadoes a 21-7 advantage entering halftime.
Three minutes into the second half, Evans connected with Benjamin for an 83-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 28-7. Hattiesburg receiver Rhyen Brisco scored on a screen pass taken 26 yards into the end zone to narrow the gap, but Evans rushed for another score on the ensuing drive to reclaim a three-score lead. The Tigers scored a third touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but at that point, the deficit was too large to surmount.
Evans finished with 233 passing yards, 111 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The junior quarterback credited the offense's success to a good week of practice correcting mistakes that were made in Week 1.
"We had to build off of Week 1," said Evans. "You know, clean up some mistakes here and there. We played well and got the win."
"He's going to be our leader every week," Breland said when asked about Evans. "We expect that out of him. I hope I get asked about him every week, because if I'm being asked about him, that means he's doing pretty good."
Benjamin rushed for 46 yards, caught two passes for 83 yards, and scored two touchdowns. Johnson had two catches for 83 yards and one score. Amir Smith, Rontavious Thomas and Daniel Coleman each caught an interception for the Tornadoes' defense, and Quinterious Seals recovered two fumbles.
Heading into their Week 3 road game against rival Wayne County, Evans believes there are no limits to what the Tornadoes are capable of achieving in 2019.
"The sky is the limit," Evans said. "I feel like we can be a championship-caliber team, and we've got a lot of momentum going into our next game."