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Postseason football arrives in Quitman

By By Jeff Byrd/The Meridian Star
Nov. 9, 2001
QUITMAN – Tom Cotton has seen a lot of Quitman High School football over the years. He was a Panther head coach back in the 1960s. Then there were several more years as the district superintendant, a post he retired from in 1983.
Just two years prior to his retirement, the Mississippi High School Actvities Association implemented a playoff system for its high school football teams. That was in 1981.
In the 20 years since, which includes about 17 years of Cotton's retirement, not once did the Panthers make the playoffs.
That has changed in 2001. Led by veteran head coach Charles Faulkner, the Panthers finally arrived in the land of playoff football. They will host defending Class 4A champion McComb on Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Quitman finished its 2001 regular season with an 8-2 record which included a 5-1 mark inside a competitive Region 5-4A.
While more teams will make the playoffs this year because of the MHSAA's change to a region format which allows the top four teams to advance, Quitman would've still made it under the old system that sent the top two teams.
Why this year?
Cotton, who regularly attends Panther practices, gives his answer.
Cotton, howver, is quick to add why this particular Panther team ranks with his favorites.
Experience at the top
Faulkner is in his seventh season at Quitman. Before taking the job he built a successful program at Okolona taking the Indians to six straight playoff berths. In 1993, Okolona won the Class 2A State Championship with a perfect 14-0 record.
Faulkner is gratified to see his Quitman Panthers now get a taste of post-season success.
As for his reasons for the Panthers turnaround, Faulkner cited the team's improved speed and its special teams.
Place-kicker, and now quarterback, Jonathan Russell has been the Panthers big weapon. Not only is he solid on place-kicking, he can boom kickoffs into the endzone. He is 13 of 14 on PAT kicks in the last three games.
The Panthers can also make it dangerous for teams to kick the ball to them. Return man Marcus McCormick has returned two punts back for touchdowns. His 90-yard touchdown against West Jones was the key play in a 13-3 Panther win.
McCormick also has four touchdown receptions in his last three games.
McCormick's success at receiver can be traced back to the Panthers opening up the offense by the pass.
Russell has thrown for four touchdowns in his three starts since taking over for Prentiss Davis. Davis, who threw for two TDs and ran for another in a 27-0 blanking of Florence, is now playing at running back.
Making things happen upfront is a sturdy offensive line. Nick Hopkins and Jeffrey Smith are the tackles. Austin Edwards in the center while the guards are Eugene Hamilton and Calvin Mosley.
Then there is the Panther defense. In six region games, the Panthers have allowed only 39 points, just 6.3 points per game. Only Magee was able to score more than a touchdown, but Quitman was still able to make key plays to grab a key 20-14 win in its region opener.
The unit is led by leading tackler in linebacker Marcus Moore. Upfront, the Panthers can apply pressure from defensive end Fred Carter and down tackles Dustin May and Darius Blanks.
Jeff Byrd is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. He can be reached at 693-1551 or by e-mail at jbyrd@themeridianstar.com.

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