November 4, 2012 1:00:08 AM
ABERDEEN -- The fourth-seeded Winona High School football team did what only one other team has managed to do this season against Aberdeen High: It scored more than 40 points against the Bulldogs.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the top-seeded Bulldogs did what they have done three times this year: They dropped 52 points or more on an opponent.
The end result was a 54-42 victory for Aberdeen in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A North State playoffs.
Aberdeen (10-2) will play host McClain, which defeated Belmont 34-6 on Friday, next week in the second round.
Aberdeen seemingly had the game well in hand with a 47-14 lead entering the fourth quarter. That's when Aberdeen coach Mark Bray and his staff began pulling the starters. The move almost backfired as Winona scored four touchdowns to pull within striking distance.
"We just lost our momentum," Bray said. "In our region games, except for Water Valley, our kids have been used to playing most of the first half and then sitting out the second half.
"With a big lead in a game like this, you always like to play your starters as long as possible and then sit them down so as to not risk injuries, so with the score being what it was, I thought it was time to get them out of there."
The only problem was Winona (5-7) left its starters in. Winona coach Ken Chandler agreed Bray may have started substituting too early.
"We dug ourselves a hole early on and it was just too much to overcome there at the end," Chandler said. "But our kids decided they didn't want to go out like that, and I'm proud of them for making a game of it."
Aberdeen made it clear why it started its playoff run on a seven-game winning streak. The Bulldogs scored on five of their first seven possessions to take a 34-14 halftime lead.
Two more Aberdeen touchdowns pushed the score to 47-14 late in the third quarter. But Winona scored three quick touchdowns to pull within 47-35.
First came a 16-play, 61-yard drive that resulted in a Patrick Purnell touchdown. Ray Richardson's 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown seconds later made it 47-28. Purnell the scored again to make it a 12-point game with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left to play.
Aberdeen's Trey Mims recovered the ensuing onside kick and Chico Harrison then bolted 55 yards on first down to give the Bulldogs some breathing room.
Winona added a late touchdown on a 29-yard pass from quarterback Marlo Hill with 1:17 left for the Tigers' last score.
Harrison scored Aberdeen's first two touchdowns on runs of 10 and 2 yards for a 13-0 first-quarter lead. Quarterback Josh Williams sandwiched a 44-yard touchdown pass to Chris McMillian and a 42-yard scoring strike to Sammie Burroughs around a 95-yard kickoff return by Winona's Deion Stinson to take a 27-7 lead with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Purnell muscled his way in from 4 yards out midway through the second quarter to cut Aberdeen's lead to 13, but Justin Lucas countered with a 5-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 34-14 halftime lead.
Williams came back in the third quarter with a 32-yard touchdown run. He then hit a streaking Sammie Burroughs for a 63-yard score that made it 47-14 with almost four minutes left in the third quarter.
Bray and Chandler were unhappy with their respective defensive units.
"We played well defensively in the first half, but we had a letdown in the second half," Bray said. "Our linebacker play was pretty bad all the way around and why I don't know."
Said Chandler, "We should have matched up with them better than we did and we sure didn't tackle like we know how to."