Coach makes difference at Pine Hills

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 25, 1999

No Pine Hills Academy football team had ever competed in the state playoffs. So imagine the shock waves around the state when the Wildcats went to perennial football power Tri-County and knocked off the Hinds County team 21-14 in the first round of the MPSA&160;Class A state playoffs.

&uot;We got up there and played our best team game of the year,&uot; said Pine Hills head coach Tony Johnson, the 1999 Natchez Democrat Area Coach of the Year. &uot;The players communicated with each other and spent a lot of time during the week watching film. They were actually predicting who would run the ball.&uot;

Pine Hills won a South State contest in 1971, but there was not a playoff format at that time.

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Pine Hills was coming off a 3-7 season in Johnson’s first year, as he dressed out 13 players.

A total of 25 came out this year.

&uot;We just went into the school and tried to get as many boys out as we could,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Then we worked as hard as we could. The boys did everything we asked of them.&uot;

The Wildcats started off the season with a heartbreaking 14-12 loss to Tallulah, which won District 6-A after finishing unbeaten during the regular season.

After a 54-0 win over Rebul came a 34-7 win over Briarfield and 21-14 win over Union.

In the fifth game of the year, Pine Hills defeated Sharkey-Issaquena 47-15, totaling 377 yards in offense as running back Chris Guidry and quarterback Jonathan Honea both went over the 100-yard mark in rushing.

&uot;That was when we realized how good we could be, beating a double-A team like that,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;The kids saw that if they wanted it bad enough, they could go and get it.&uot;

Pine Hills’ only other loss of the regular season was a 14-13 setback to Tensas, which finished second in district.

&uot;It really wasn’t hard getting over those losses because we knew we played well enough to win,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;We had 300 total yards against Tallulah, it just came down to not getting it done inside the red zone (opponent’s 20-yard line). We just had too many mental mistakes.&uot;

The Wildcats finished 10-2, losing to Tallulah in the second round of the playoffs.

&uot;I think the hardest part was getting the kids to believe in themselves,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;We had a lot of great leaders in players such as Jonathan, Shane (Lofton), Chris and Jeff (Whittington) and a lot others. A lot of them were just tired of losing and wanted to make a change.&uot;

Johnson, 36, came to Pine Hills from Arkansas, where his wife Robin is from (&uot;I owe her a lot of credit for our success,&uot; Johnson said).

The Greenwood native said he uses the same philosophy as former Southern Miss coach Curley Hallman, who he worked under as a graduate assistant and DeSoto coach Jay McGregor, who he also worked under.

&uot;This has definitely been my most gratifying year,&uot; Johnson said

&uot;I think we’ll have another good bunch coming back next year,&uot; said Johnson, who will first be managing the Pine Hills baseball team. &uot;We’ve got 10 or 12 ninth-grades coming up. We want be as experienced, but we should have some talent.&uot;