Long Beach won’t be searching for moral victories anymore after finally getting a taste of the real thing.
The Bearcats raced by Purvis in a 34-0 show of force last Friday that stood out as more than just a result on the scoreboard.
It was the first win for the LBHS program in 1,107 days, snapping a 29-game losing streak that dated back to week one of the 2020 season.
“It felt surreal for me,” Bearcat linebacker and running back Landon Dry told the Sun Herald. Dry is one of several seniors on the roster who experienced a win for the first time as a varsity player.
It was a breakthrough week for a team that’s been inching closer to ending its dubious streak since the season began.
The Bearcats had a lead going into halftime in each of their first three games. All ended in losses to Pass Christian, Forrest County AHS and Bay High.
Sophomore running back Junior Brown exploded for 328 rushing yards and five touchdowns to help lift LBHS over the hump and into the win column.
“I think (the players) realize how winning a football game feels now,” coach Jacob Massey said. “A lot of the kids, they went into each game trying not to lose instead of going out and win. Friday night, I think they saw what going after a win looks like and how it feels... The guys believed they could win and that they were going to win.”
Rolling back the cloud
When Massey arrived before the 2021 season, he found a program going through the motions. Long Beach had not won multiple games in a single year since 2018 and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011.
“There was a cloud hanging over the program,” Massey said.
Each week was a battle against a second opponent: team morale. Massey’s approach has been to simply focus his team’s energy on self-improvement.
“We’re not focused on the Picayune’s or the West Harrison’s or Purvis, we want to get better as a football team,” Massey said. “We want to focus on Long Beach every single week.”
According to Dry, football at LBHS before Massey was just that, football. “But it wasn’t good football,” he said.
Now the program better allocates and channels its energy and is learning how to win versus searching out silver linings and moral victories.
“I think the culture has been implemented and the kids are buying into it,” Massey said.
“It feels like an actual team and it feels good to be a part of that,” Dry added.
Brown’s immediate impact
Massey is still in the early stages of building out depth within the roster. The Bearcats are young and have only seven seniors.
The long-term goal for Massey and his staff is to create and maintain large senior classes. In year two, one player has emerged as the potential figurehead for those coming groups.
Initially a backup, Brown was injected into the starting lineup quickly this season due to injury and has made his presence felt.
In just four games, he has 560 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 97 carries.
“Junior is one of those guys that’s really bought into what we’re trying to do,” Massey said. “He came to every single workout in the summer, every single practice. And even when he wasn’t starting, he came to work every single day and did exactly what we asked him to do. I think a lot of kids have seen what Junior has done to get in the spot he’s in and it’s been exactly what we want our culture to be.”
His presence and production has given the team an extra shot of life and has helped put the Bearcats in a position to win in every game this season.
Brown ran for over 150 yards against Pass Christian before making his first start against Forrest County AHS. While the team benefits from his hard running, Brown has benefited from a changed atmosphere around the program.
“Everybody is positive more than last year,” Brown said. “And we got a win, so now everybody wants more.”
Long Beach faces a district schedule soon that Massey says is even tougher than the previous setup. The Bearcats aren’t fazed by the daunting jaunt through October, though, and are more focused on improving the future of the program one practice at a time.
“If we keep continuing to build on what we have right now, we’ll definitely be able to compete with other 6A schools,” Dry said.
Long Beach hits the road again this week for a game against Petal.