BRANDON — Jamari Thompson, Jerry Johnson and the Pirates came into Thursday night's game against Brandon hungry for a win.
Unfortunately for Pearl, the only course the Bulldogs served their guests was a pile of dirt.
Brandon raced ahead to a four-touchdown, first-half lead and held on for a 38-7 win over their arch-rivals in the annual "Eat Dirt" game at Bulldog stadium.
The Bulldogs (8-2) had already sewn up the top seed coming out of Region 3 and will host Region 4 four-seed Harrison Central (6-3) next Friday night. Pearl dropped to the No. 4 seed and will travel to top-seeded Ocean Springs (10-0).
Thursday night's game told the story of two teams headed in opposite directions.
Brandon has been on an upward trajectory since starting the season 0-2. The win over Pearl was the Bulldogs' eighth in a row, and perhaps its most convincing one yet.
The Bulldogs got a fumble recovery at the Pearl 30-yard line on the opening possession and scored on a 4th-&-3 play when quarterback Landon Varnes found Jevon Durr open over the middle for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
The Brandon defense forced a punt on the ensuing Pearl possession, then marched 82 yards in five plays and scored on Varnes' 52-yard touchdown pass to Devin Thigpen.
And so it went — the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of the game and led it 28-0 with 9:03 left in the second quarter.
"That's what I expect from my guys and they know that," Brandon coach Sam Williams said. "We're going to continue to play that way through the playoffs. We've positioned ourselves to do some special things so now, as we move on, we'll keep rolling."
The Bulldogs have made their bones on the ground the past couple of games, riding the backs of sophomore Nate Blount and junior Jarvis Durr. They did it again Thursday — the duo combined for 149 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns.
"Me and Nate are a good combo right now and kind of feed off each other," Durr said. "We came at them with a big one-two punch tonight and it feels great to beat Pearl."
What Durr and Blount did was nothing new, but the Bulldogs also threw in a new wrinkle with the passing game.
Varnes had possibly his best game in a month, completing 11 of his 16 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He got into a real rhythm early, hitting seven of his first eight.
"We knew (passing the ball) was something we were going to have to be able to do at some point in the playoffs," Williams said. "We know what we like to do, putting 11 guys on the line of scrimmage and run the ball, but we wanted to come out and throw the ball a little bit and get him in a rhythm (headed to the playoffs)."
Varnes' one interception came late in the second quarter, when he tried to get the ball to the outside on a wide receiver screen pass that was tipped at the line. Pearl's Justice Moore fought off a block, stepped in front of the lame duck and took it 84 yards the other way for the pick-six.
That was pretty much all she wrote on highlights for the boys in white. Quarterback Jerry Jones couldn't get into any kind of rhythm, and tailback Jamari Thompson failed to find much running room and spent the second half icing an injured shoulder.
The Pirates had seven first-half possessions: fumble, punt, punt, turnover on downs, fumble, punt, punt.
The coaches agreed at the halftime break to run the clock in the second half.
"We picked a bad night to be really, really sloppy," Pearl coach Justin Hunter said. "It was probably our sloppiest game of the year on both sides, and a lot of that was due to Brandon. You have to give them credit: they forced us into bad situations and took advantage when we couldn't execute. That's a good football team over there."
The loss was the third in four games for the Pirates (7-4) after they started the season by winning six of their first seven. Pearl came into Thursday's game fighting injuries, an issue which only got worse as the game continued.
That's not good news for a team that's about to hit the road to face the top-ranked team in 6A.
"We gotta move on from this one," Hunter said. "I think we're a good football team, we just weren't a very good football team tonight. We just picked a bad game not to step up to the challenge."