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Final game defined NHS’s season, players

Just how good was this year’s Natchez High School football team?

Let me put it this way: If the Bulldogs had played in any other division than MHSAA Region 3-6A, they would likely be gearing up for the first round of the playoffs this week.

You won’t hear NHS head coach Lance Reed or anyone associated with the team complaining. The Bulldogs aren’t ones to shy away from competition, and a region with Meridian, Oak Grove, Petal, Brandon and Hattiesburg offers plenty of it.

The Bulldogs finished their season 7-4 overall, 4-3 in the division with losses to Petal, Brandon and Hattiesburg. NHS’s only non-conference loss came at the hands of Class 3A’s Wilkinson County, which will play in the second round of the playoffs Friday.

NHS opened the season expecting to be much-improved from last year’s rather pedestrian season, but an opening-night loss to Wilkinson County brought out many doubters. A Class 3A team should never beat a Class 6A team, they said.

But the Bulldogs slowly improved as the weeks went on, and that improvement showed in big way against Meridian Sept. 21. NHS stunned the then-No.1 overall ranked Wildcats with a 54-41 win at home.

The team went on to go 3-3 in a stacked region, and due to a tiebreaker rule in favor of Meridian, a win last Friday still wasn’t enough to give the Bulldogs at least another week to play.

Oak Grove is usually one of the stronger teams in NHS’s region, and the Warriors entered Friday’s contest with a win against Meridian and had just barely lost to Petal, the region’s No. 1 seed, 24-21. Both teams were holding onto the faint hope that Forest Hill could somehow upset Meridian, opening the door to a playoff berth.

But none of that mattered to NHS after Friday night. When the Bulldogs’ Tyler Williams blocked a last-second field goal attempt by the Warriors to secure a 41-40 win, news that Meridian had won its game didn’t damped his spirit — or anyone else’s.

“This is the best moment of my life,” Williams said following the game. “The playoffs don’t matter right now.”

In a way, it’s perhaps fitting that the final game NHS played this season ended in a win. Out of many teams, only one can be crowned state champion. All but one playoff team is going to have its season end with a loss.

Not these Bulldogs, though. After getting up 33-14 against Oak Grove, the Warriors came back and took a 40-33 lead in the fourth. NHS’s final touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion, to go along with the defense’s final stand on the blocked field goal, epitomized the character this year’s Bulldogs team played with. When their backs were against the wall, they bit back with ferocity.

“The character they displayed and the toughness showed a lot,” a proud Reed said after the game.

Reed also called this year’s senior class the best to come through NHS. High praises to be sure, but if there’s anyone who would know, it’s Reed. Though he would probably give all the credit to his players, Reed and his assistants also deserve high praise — If the coaches don’t have character, you can be sure the players won’t.

Could the Bulldogs have done even better this season? Reed would probably say yes. Winning coaches, by nature, are never really satisfied. But now is not the time to reflect on what could’ve been, only what was — a high-character team going out on a high note.