Natchez fall in regular season finale, make playoffs
Published 9:59 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023
BROOKHAVEN — Natchez Head Coach Steve Davis said one of his team’s goals this season was to make the playoffs. Brookhaven clinched home field advantage with a 29-14 win over Natchez Thursday night but the Bulldogs are still dancing with a 5-6 (3-2 district) record.
Thursday night’s action had every feel of a playoff game. Home field advantage was on the line and both teams on paper were evenly matched. Natchez and Brookhaven went toe to toe for much of the first half but two late touchdowns in the third quarter was enough for the Panthers to win.
Penalties and missed assignments were the biggest drive killer for the Bulldogs. All things the team will need to clean up this coming week in practice.
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“We played hard and fought to the end. We just need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” Davis said. “We will come back and fight. We need to take care of these injuries. We are going to the dance and that’s all that matters.”
Mississippi State commit Xavier Gayten scored the first two touchdowns for Brookhaven. One was a 44 yard rush where he steamrolled a Natchez defender at the goal line. Natchez answered on defense and held strong and then got an offensive drive down the field.
Derrick Hawkins scored the first touchdown for Natchez on a four yard rush with 10:44 in the second quarter. Gayten scored nearly four minutes later on a three yard rush to jump out to a 14-6 lead.
Natchez responded with a 35 yard rush by Carl McDonald. He broke tackles and squirmed free to score. Teammates helped push him over the goal line on a two point conversion play to tie it up with 3:45 left in the second quarter.
Davis said they battled through the third quarter before a gashing 92-yard touchdown rush by Brookhaven’s Caiden Quarles put the Panthers up by a touchdown with 3:44 left in the third quarter. Nathan Lewis scored on a 17 yard rush for the Panthers with three seconds left in the third quarter.
Natchez knew what was coming on both plays as coaches yelled out directions to the defense. Bulldog players were unable to make the play. Other than those two drives, the Bulldogs did well on defense.
“We knew Gayten would be a handful for us tonight. We came out flat again and I’m trying to put a finger on why we are flat to start the game,” Davis said. “It always takes something to wake us up. We played inspired ball and stopped them but penalties stopped our drives and we couldn’t recover from it.”
Several players left the game with injuries Thursday night. Some of them are just nicks and scrapes the players will have to play through. Davis said they get nicked up during practice too so they will have to be tougher.
Natchez will likely play Gautier or Laurel in the first round of the MHSAA 5A playoffs. Their opponent will depend on how results go elsewhere. Davis said it would have been a treat to host a playoff game but now they will have to go on the road.
“We aren’t satisfied. We have to come into the dance and make some noise,” Davis said. “We have made good strides but we still have to get tougher. We need to finish blocks and try to get better. We are going to try and win the next game.”