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Natchez topples No. 1: Offense shows off in win over Meridian

Photos by LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Natchez High Coach Lance Reed gets a celebratory spray-bottle bath from excited players after the team defeated the No. 1 ranked Meridian Friday night. The Bulldogs won 54-41 against Region 3-6A opponent Meridian.

NATCHEZ — Natchez High School was nursing what many thought was an unbelievable 40-34 lead, and starting quarterback Anthony Robinson had just fumbled the ball over to Meridian High School early in the fourth quarter.

It was the second time the Bulldogs had fumbled in as many possessions, and senior all-purpose player Derrian Johnson came to the sideline and screamed toward the coaches in the press box while pounding his chest with his right hand, “Give me the ball.”

“Every one on this team looks up to me to lead, and at that time I wanted the ball. It was my time to shine,” Johnson said.

Two plays after Robinson’s fumble, the Bulldogs defense came up big by forcing Meridian running back Austin Holt to fumble, and Bulldogs’ defensive back Amos James recovered.

Johnson then got his opportunity — and he did not disappoint. Johnson rushed for 39 yards on the ensuing drive and capped it off with a 17-yard touchdown run on which he dragged four Wildcat players into the end zone with him.

After a Meridian score brought the Bulldogs’ lead to 48-41, Johnson took over again.

Natchez High School’s Jeremy Gaylor (60) raises his helmet in the air as he celebrates one of his team’s touchdown during Friday’s game against Meridian.

He burst through the middle of the Meridian defense for a 47-yard touchdown run with 1:27 left to give the Bulldogs the 54-41 victory over the No. 1 team in state, according to the Associated Press poll.

Meridian also entered the game as the No. 1 team in 6A, the state’s largest football classification.

“It felt great to be a member of this senior class and be able to get a win over a great Meridian team,” Johnson said.

Johnson was only a part of a Natchez offense that had its best performance of the season. The Bulldogs racked up 469 yards and accumulated 26 first downs in the contest.

“It was a tremendous job by our offensive staff the whole game,” head coach Lance Reed said. “To score 54 points on a great Meridian team with a great defense was tremendous. We made plays like no other, and had guys looking to step up.”

For more photos from the game click here.

The Bulldogs looked like they were going to run away with a blowout after one half of play.

Natchez scored the first 28 points of the game before Meridian managed to get on the board with a 76-yard kickoff return by Desmond Grayson.

Robinson started the scoring for the Bulldogs with a 9-yard touchdown run on the Bulldogs’ first possession. Natchez scored again on its second possession by going 58 yards on nine rushing plays.

Nicholas Barnes finished the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run. Herbert Steadman added his second extra point, and the Bulldogs led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Natchez dominated the line of scrimmage on offense for most of the game and rushed for 298 yards.

In the second quarter, Natchez showed it had the ability to strike quickly on offense as well. Johnson caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to put the Bulldogs up 21-0. On the next Meridian possession, Wildcat running back Richard McQuarley fumbled, and Revonne Corey recovered for Natchez.

The Bulldogs scored on their first play after the fumble on a halfback pass from Johnson to Earon Brown for 21 yards.

Meridian answered with Grayson’s kickoff return, but Natchez managed to extend the lead before half when Johnson scored on a 1-yard run to give Natchez a 34-7 halftime lead.

Junior wide receiver Lee Jackson (12) celebrates Natchez High School’s 54-41 win Friday night at Natchez.

Meridian came out strong to start the second half with a 78-yard touchdown pass from J-Mar Smith to McQuarley, followed by a 5-yard run by Smith. The scores cut Natchez’s lead to 34-21.

The Bulldogs answered with a 15-yard run by Barnes to lead 40-21.

Meridian put together a drive that ended with McQuarley barreling in the end zone from 3 yards out to cut the Natchez lead to 40-28. Natchez running back Denzel Washington fumbled on the Bulldogs’ next possession.

Meridian capitalized with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Grayson to make the score 40-34.

The two teams traded fumbles after that before Johnson decided to take over the game.

The senior finished with 153 yards rushing, 94 yards receiving and 21 yards passing. He ran for three touchdowns, caught one and threw for one.

Despite Robinson’s late fumble, the sophomore signal caller played well for the Bulldogs. He completed 13 of 15 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown.

Reed said he was proud of his players and the performance they put together, and it was important for them to win their MHSAA Region 3-6A opener.

“It was tremendous for these guys to come out and compete like they did,” Reed said. “It’s great for our program.”

Natchez (4-1, 1-0) will travel to face Terry High School Friday.