2016 Sports: Year in review

Published 9:38 pm Friday, December 30, 2016

Some were faces from long ago, while others were teenagers forging new legends. No matter how old or young, Warren County’s athletes and sports figures made a splash and a name for themselves on the state level in Mississippi in 2016.

The year started with a native son earning a chance at the big time and wrapped up with an overtime classic between Warren Central and Clinton in the Class 6A football playoffs. In between there were some record-setting performances, homecomings and other highlights.

Here is a look back at the top five sports stories from 2016:

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

1. Hopson hired at southern miss

Jay Hopson’s lifelong football odyssey started at Viking Stadium, where he was a star defensive back for Warren Central in the mid-1980s. It continued through his playing days at Ole Miss, and then on to the coaching ranks where he worked at 10 schools in a 25-year career.

Finally, in late January, Hopson got a job he’d always coveted — head coach at Southern Miss.

Hopson was hired by USM after four successful seasons at Alcorn State that included two Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and one HBCU national championship. He is believed to be the first person from Warren County to ever become the head coach at a Football Bowl Subdivision program, the highest level of college football.

“It’s truly the biggest honor of my life to be here, and I hope I can do you proud,” Hopson told a large crowd at Southern Miss’ Trent Lott Center during his introductory press conference in February.

Hopson had mixed results in his first season. The Golden Eagles upset Southeastern Conference opponent Kentucky in the season opener, but were hampered by injuries and inconsistent play during a midseason stretch in which they lost five out of six.

Southern Miss did rebound to beat Louisiana Tech in the regular-season finale to become bowl-eligible, and then beat Louisiana-Lafayette 28-21 in the New Orleans Bowl to finish the year 7-6.

2. Warren Central vs. Clinton

Almost from the day Warren Central first fielded a football team in the fall of 1965, one of its biggest rivals was Clinton. The teams clashed for Little Dixie Conference championships in the 1970s, and then region championships and playoff berths in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

Rarely, if ever, did their games have the hype and stakes of this year’s matchup.

When Clinton came into Viking Stadium on Oct. 21, it was with an 8-0 record, the state’s No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll, and an aura of invincibility thanks to star quarterback Cam Akers.

The fourth-ranked Vikings shattered that in a matter of minutes. Playing in front of a capacity home crowd of nearly 8,000 fans, the Vikings raced out to a 27-point lead at halftime and won 50-32.

That was only the first act of their saga, however.

The teams met again in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs and put on a classic. Another sold-out crowd — thinned considerably by a thunderstorm at halftime that led to an hourlong delay — watched as the Vikings and Arrows battled into overtime in their first postseason meeting since 1993.

Akers carried the ball 38 times for 258 yards, scored the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter and then ran it into the end zone again on the first play of overtime to put the Arrows in front. Warren Central missed its chance to tie when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete on its overtime possession, and Clinton escaped with a 27-21 victory.

It turned out to be one of Clinton’s toughest tests of the season. The October loss was its only one en route to its first football state championship.

Warren Central finished with a 10-3 record, posting a second consecutive 10-win season for the first time in 20 years. Its longtime nemesis, however, spoiled perhaps the best chance in that span to win a state championship.

3. Harris burns up the track

Track and field has been a varsity high school sport in Mississippi since 1924, but no one had ever done what St. Aloysius sprinter DeMichael Harris did on May 7, 2016.

Running at the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools state meet, Harris became the first high school athlete to ever run the 200 meters in less than 21 seconds at a state meet.

Harris’ time of 20.8 seconds broke the previous state record — in either the MAIS or the Mississippi High School Activities Association — that Vicksburg’s Terrell Smith had set in 2014.

Harris also shattered MAIS records in the 100 meters (10.55 seconds) and 400 meters (47.96) to win state championships in both events. Thanks to St. Al’s switch from the MHSAA to the MAIS in the summer of 2015, Harris also earned the unique distinction of holding state records in both the state’s public and private school athletic associations.

Harris had won the 2015 MHSAA Class 1A championships in the 100 and 400 meters with record-setting times, and also won the 200 meter championship.

Harris, now a football player and sprinter for Hinds Community College, won his second consecutive Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year award for boys track and field.

4. Brewer’s HOF list grows

Sean Brewer will likely remember 2015 and 2016 as the years he went into the hall of fame. Ask which one, and it might take him a half-hour to answer.

After he was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame in December 2015, Brewer was recognized twice more in 2016. The former Warren Central and Millsaps College football star joined his father, Johnny Brewer, in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in July and then was part of the inaugural class of the Vicksburg Warren School District Athletic Hall of Fame in September.

Brewer was inducted to the VWSD Hall of Fame along with former Warren Central football stars Tony Smith and Carl Blue, Vicksburg High tennis great Barry Hassell and VHS basketball player Cynthia Hall.

“It’s a blessing,” Brewer said ahead of his VWSD induction. “Any time anybody looks at your past accomplishments and recognizes them, it’s an honor and a blessing.”

The VWSD Hall of Fame class was inducted during a ceremony the night before the Vicksburg vs. Warren Central football game. The introduction of the Hall of Fame is part of an effort by new athletic director Preston Nailor to recognize the history and tradition of high school sports in Warren County.
5. Purvis comes back to PCA

Just 10 years after he graduated from Porters Chapel Academy, Blake Purvis returned to his alma mater as its head football coach.

The 28-year-old was hired in March after two seasons as the head coach at Brookhaven Academy. He’d also spent time as a college assistant at Mississippi College and West Texas A&M. He became one of the youngest head coaches in the state when he was hired at Brookhaven Academy.

Purvis invigorated a struggling PCA program with some life during the offseason, but it didn’t translate into immediate results. Wracked by injuries, including a car wreck that seriously injured four players just two weeks before the season, the Eagles finished 1-9.

They did, however, snap a 16-game losing skid by beating Benton Academy 21-7 in the next-to-last game of the season and played several other teams tough before injuries and depth started to take their toll.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

email author More by Ernest