PERKINSTON, Miss. (MGCCC Athletics) - Mississippi Gulf Coast will kick off its latest season-opener since 1944 Thursday following a short trip to Poplarville following one of the longest, strangest off-seasons since those days.
Coach Jack Wright’s Bulldogs, reigning NJCAA champions, take on new coach Seth Smith’s Pearl River team at Dobie Holden Stadium, with kickoff at 7 p.m. The game is a sellout, and you can watch the PRCC video stream at https://prccmedia.com/watchlive/gold/ and listen to the MGCCC radio stream at https://livestream.com/mgcccbulldogs/events/9330175.
The COVID-19 pandemic led the NJCAA to postpone its football national championship to the spring, and the newly-renamed MACCC opted to play a shortened six-game regular season. Hence, the Oct. 1 kickoff, the latest start to a season since the 1944 season started Oct. 6.
That season also faced a shortened six-game schedule caused by World War II, and the Bulldogs didn’t play a team north of Jackson. They played Jones twice and Pearl River twice.
Gulf Coast starts this year against the Wildcats, and will only play MACCC South opponents. The winner of the North Division will travel to the South champs for the state title game.
Some might expect the shortened season to provide a reduced margin of error. There are no non-conference opponents to start the season and get ready for the South. There’s only one team from each division in the playoffs.
Wright doesn’t see it that way at all.
“I’ve never felt there’s a big margin,” he said. “It’s always been a very thin margin. A nine-game schedule is what we’re used to. I’ve always felt that in this league, every game is going to be close. Almost every game matters. There’s never been a game you can go in and relax, and you’re almost in a panic to prepare every week.”
The Bulldogs will be defending their state championship following last year’s 12-0 season that ended in the NJCAA Championship Game in Pittsburg, Kansas. Gulf Coast won’t get a chance to defend that title, regardless of how many games it wins in the MACCC.
Some might regret not being able to play for a second national championship. Again, Wright doesn’t see things how others might.
“I know from my own experience having been in the league for several years, winning the state is a big deal,” he said. "There’s no question your goal is always to win a national title, but every team that’s in this state, every coach that’s in this state, every player in our league knows the importance to the state of Mississippi that this football conference has.
“I’m not disappointed at all that we can’t compete for a quote-unquote national title. There were several weeks this summer when we were unsure about even having a season. The disappointment is tempered by the excitement of having a season.”
WHO: MGCCC (0-0) vs. Pearl River (0-0)
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 1, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Dobie Holden Stadium, Poplarville
Series record: Pearl River leads 55-41-1
First Meeting: 1926
Last Meeting: Nov. 10, 2019, MGCCC 35, Pearl River Community College 3
Notes: Gulf Coast has won eight of the last nine meetings, dating back to 2011 and 12 of the last 14 back to 2007 … Gulf Coast is averaging 26.7 points in the last nine games, Pearl River 10.6 … Gulf Coast has seven shutouts in its 41 victories, the last of which came in 2014 … Pearl River has 19 shutouts, the last of which came in 2003 … Gulf Coast won six straight between 2011 and 2016 … Pearl River’s longest win streak is 17 between 1953 and 1965 … The biggest Gulf Coast win in series history was a 52-7 win in 2008, while the biggest Pearl River win came in 1961 (60-6) … This is the latest season-opener for Gulf Coast since the 1944 season started on Oct. 6 … The only other later start was in 1928 (Oct. 5, when the Mississippi State Teacher’s College Varsity – now USM – won 12-2) … In 1927, the season also started on Oct. 1, and Perkinston tied that same squad 0-0 … Perk would play that varsity squad one more time and lose in 1928, before taking five of six games against the USM freshman squad through 1970.