Loss to Copiah marked end of an era at PCA|[11/28/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 28, 2006

When the Porters Chapel Eagles lost to Copiah Academy in the MPSA Class AA semifinals on Friday night, it wasn’t just the end of another football season at the school.

It was the end of an era.

Eleven seniors walked off the field for the final time after PCA’s 35-22 loss. They had lost a total of eight games in the last six years, dating to their junior high days, and ushered in an unprecedented run of success in the program.

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PCA went 30-7 the last three seasons – the best three-year run in the 33-year history of the program – with three playoff appearances, two district championships and back-to-back trips to the state semifinals in 2005 and 2006. The only thing missing from its resume was a state championship. Senior receiver Michael Busby said that shouldn’t diminish the other accomplishments.

&#8220It’s not what you want, but it’s definitely an accomplishment,” he said. &#8220A lot of teams wish they could say they made it to South State two times in a row and the playoffs three times in a row.”

PCA has some talented players coming back in 2007, such as defensive lineman Matt Cranfield and four offensive linemen who started at least four games this year. The losses at the skill positions, however, are huge. PCA amassed more than 5,000 yards of offense this season – all but about 200 of it by seniors.

Quarterback Hayden Hales leads the list of departing players. He ran for 971 yards and threw for more than 2,400. His 28 touchdown passes tied a Warren County single-season record.

Both of the Eagles’ top receivers, Busby and Cole Smith, also are gone. Busby caught 42 passes for 854 yards this season while Smith broke nearly every county receiving record there is. Smith finished with 1,206 yards and 15 touchdowns, both single-season records, and also set career records in both categories with 1,665 yards and 24 TDs since 2004.

Defensively, linebackers Cody Ferguson and Moose Carney – who were first and second on the team in tackles, and also pulled double-duty at fullback – are also on their way out. Carney was the team’s second-leading rusher with 711 yards and six TDs.

While the departure of the big guns will hurt the Eagles in 2007, it might not be the most crippling blow. A host of role players, like tailback Spencer Pell, receiver/defensive back Robbie Simms and lineman Joey Gerache also finished their high school careers.

Most of the departing seniors played on both offense and defense, meaning the Eagles will have to fill 16 of 22 positions with new starters in 2007.

PCA coach Randy Wright said the Eagles have a solid group of young players working their way up the ranks.

The line will also provide a solid nucleus next season as the team retools. Center Brian Holloway and guards Chris May and Brad Pennington all return. Tackle Matt Hall, whose junior season was cut short by a knee injury, should also return.

Another, off-the-field move may help PCA, too. When the Mississippi Private Schools Association finishes its reclassification process in a few weeks, PCA is expected to move back to Class A after a year in Class AA. The lesser competition may be the cure for a rebuilding team as it tries to stay competitive.

&#8220It’d be a good time for us to move back down,” Wright said. &#8220Moving back down, with the type of athletes we’ve got, will give us a chance to be real successful.”