It was another offensive struggle for Meridian.
After being shut out in the first half for the second straight week, the Wildcats had the chance to get within one possession of Hancock early in the fourth quarter after quarterback Jonathan Vaughn threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Jaquarris Collins to cut their deficit to 21-12.
Following a failed two-point conversion after two false starts moved them back to the 13-yard line for the try, Meridian allowed the ensuing kickoff to be returned to its own 25-yard line. The Hawks scored on their next play on a rushing attempt and grabbed an insurance touchdown in the final minute to knock off the Wildcats 34-12 on the road in Class 6A football Friday.
“We were just slow starting again,” Meridian head coach John Douglass said. “We had a little something going there, then gave up the big kick return. You just can’t win when you have lapses like that, when you don’t tackle or make the block that you should’ve made. When you give up a big play like that, it just takes the wind out of you.”
Meridian (1-1) was held to zero total yards on offense in the first half, with eight plays earning negative yards or no gain. The team was forced to punt on its first four possessions, trying for a hail mary on their fifth at the end of the half, a play that ended up with Vaughn getting sacked.
Hancock (1-1) went into halftime with a 14-0 lead after getting rushing touchdowns of 6 and 9 yards. The Hawks gained 97 yards of offense before the break, incurring 49 yards on seven penalties. They were penalized 10 times in the game.
The Wildcats got on the board late in the third when KeXavius Burton ran up the middle for a 5-yard score after the Wildcats converted on fourth down on the previous play. A blocked extra point made it 14-6. Vaughn went 10-for-13 passing for 130 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He also ran for 39 yards.
Facing the potential for Meridian to get the ball back and trying to tie the game, Hancock perfectly executed a flea flicker on fourth-and-6 from the 28-yard line on a pass from quarterback Sema’J Robertston to Jordan Zulli to go up by 15. Three plays later, the Wildcats scored on the deep pass from Vaughn.
Meridian ended the night with 130 yards of offense, earning 46 on the ground. KeXavius Burton had 31 rushing yards on 10 carries, wide receiver Martavious Early caught four passes for 22 yards in the air and Collins had three receptions for 87 yards.
“We’re a young football team,” Douglass said. “We’re still growing, still maturing. We’ve got a ways to go, but this is an opportunity for us to grow and to learn, and we’re going to come in Monday and try to get better.”
Power running back Sebastian Fausett carried the load for the Hawks, earning 142 yards on 20 carries with three touchdowns and breaking a plethora of tackles. Robertson was 2-for-8 passing for 59 yards.
“We’ve got to step up and make tackles,” Douglass said. “I’m not picking on the defense because we’ve got to come off the ball and make blocks and do some things on offense, too. We’re still under construction, still have a ways to go.”
Meridian travels to Picayune (1-0) next week.