BRANDON — Brandon junior Nate Blount's waited a long time to have an impact in the MHSAA 6A Playoffs, and now that he's healthy, he's making the most of the opportunity.
The Bulldogs rode another big performance from "The Nate Train" to a 36-28 win over Warren Central Friday night in the state quarterfinals.
They'll travel to the coast to face undefeated Ocean Springs (12-0) in the Class 6A South State Championship next Friday night.
"We're just glad to have (Nate) in the playoffs," Brandon coach Sam Williams said. "Glad that he's healthy, man. Our kids did a great job executing the game plan tonight... and he was certainly a focal point of that."
Blount picked up a heavier load than usual, carrying the ball 32 times for 285 yards and scored all five Brandon touchdowns.
His first score came after Warren Central recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and took an early 7-0 lead.
The Bulldogs (11-1) drove 65 yards in nine plays, and quarterback Landon Varnes connected on six of seven passes to set up Blount's 13-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7.
Warren Central answered right back to start the second quarter with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Jack Wright to Zack Evans that gave the Vikings (10-2) a 14-7 lead.
Brandon responded on the very next possession with 10-play, 65-yard drive that featured 43 yards on six carries for Blount, including a three-yard touchdown to pull the Bulldogs even at 14-14.
Warren Central's stud tailback Trey Hall got the Vikings going on the following possession with a 45-yard run to set the Vikings up with a first down at the Brandon 14-yard line. It took the 11 brothers five plays to cover that distance, with Wright taking it in from one-yard line on the quarterback sneak to give the Vikings the 21-14 halftime lead.
But things started unraveling for the Vikings in the third quarter, starting with a fumble on the first play of the second half.
The Bulldogs cashed that in for six on Blount's third touchdown run of the night, this one from seven yards out.
They also scored touchdowns on their second and third possessions of the quarter on runs of 48 and four yards.
When the dust cleared, the Bulldogs held a 33-21 lead.
"We talked at halftime, but we just had to buckle down and go back to playing our kind of football," Blount said. "We had been working on this all week. We just had to come together as brothers and find a way to win the football game."
And that's exactly what they did.
Warren Central trimmed the lead to 33-28 on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Wright to Evans with under a minute to go in the third quarter, but Brandon scored the only points in the fourth on a 29-yard field goal.
The Vikings had one last chance to tie the game. But Wright's pass on 3rd-and-7 from the 36-yard line fell harmlessly out of bounds as time expired.
It was an incredible showing from Warren Central, which lost the previous meeting with the Bulldogs 21-3 in Vicksburg earlier this season.
Hall finished with 92 yards rushing. Wright completed 20 of his 37 passes for 265 yards and tossed two touchdown passes and ran for another.
The Achilles heel for the Vikings was the turnover. Hall fumbled it away and Wright threw three interceptions.
"We've been evolving since the start of district play," Viking coach Josh Morgan said. "I thought we had a really good game plan for them, and we definitely had some shots. I think the ultimate thing was us turning the ball over, which was uncharacteristic for us."
Uncharacteristic for the Vikings, but opportunistic for the Bulldogs, who will play for South State for the second year in a row after losing in the state championship in 2021.
But unlike last year, the Bulldogs will have to go on the road to win the right to play for another state title. To get back to Hattiesburg, they'll have to find a way to do something no other team has been able to do: slow down Ocean Springs quarterback and two-time Mr. Football winner Bray Hubbard.
"We'll have to figure it out," Williams said. "Same thing — trying to go 1-0 every week. We'll come up with a good game plan for them. They have the best player in the state, but we have the best team in the state. So, we'll go down there and try to do our thing."