A win doesn't have to be pretty to count.
Though Laurel never trailed Friday night — from the opening drive to the final buzzer — mistakes kept Laurel from putting former and familiar 4A foe Mendenhall entirely away.
Head coach Ryan Earnest had this to say following his team's 24-21 road win to kick off its 2021 season.
"As long as the good guys have more than the bad guys, that's all that matters," said Earnest with a chuckle. "We have a lot to clean up, but that's to be expected in your first ball game of the season.
"Our kids competed. We were able to run the football the way we wanted to. I'm not too fond of our turnovers, but I loved our guys' effort. I'm proud to coach this team. I love these guys."
Laurel committed three turnovers on three consecutive drives (two fumbles and one INT) late in the second half. Only one of those turnovers, though, resulted in Mendenhall points.
After a mishandled snap on a punt attempt late in the third quarter, Mendenhall capitalized on offense to pull within four, 24-21, following a successful two-point play.
Laurel's subsequent two turnovers didn't result in Mendenhall scores.
"Twice Mendenhall got the ball back with the momentum," said Earnest. "And our defense came up with big stops.
Mendenhall didn't play its best ball either. Sixteen of Laurel's 24 points were capitalizations on Tiger turnovers.
After intercepting a Mendenhall pass at the 1-yard line, junior running back Caden Arrington bolted 99 yards up the middle on a one-play scoring drive to give Laurel a 16-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
Laurel continued to show its explosiveness with under a minute to play in the quarter. After a 49-yard scramble by junior quarterback Javonta Caldwell, senior running back Kiron Benjamin capped the two-play scoring drive with a 1-yard run.
We talk about those plays every week," said Earnest. "We have a certain number of what we call explosive plays we want to get every week. I think we hit that number tonight."
Benjamin also had a 2-yard score in the first quarter to put Laurel in front 10-0.
Laurel's only points in the second half were on a tackle of Mendenhall in the end zone for a safety.
"Mendenhall has a good offense, and a lot of what happened tonight had a lot to do with that," said Earnest. "[Mendenhall's] quarterback is phenomenal. He'll be playing for a long time. That is why we put them on our schedule. We knew they would challenge us, especially coming over here."
Earnest said the mistakes of Friday night are fixable, and the season is still long.
"I can't fault the effort at all, but our execution has to improve," said Earnest. "But again, this was our first ball game of the season. Some of those things you expect, but there are some things that we have to do better. It's a long season, though; it's a marathon and not a sprint. We don't want to be playing our best ball now. We want to be playing our best ball when it counts."
Laurel returns home to host 6A Petal next Friday night, 'Between the Bricks.' Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.