Friday night won’t be easy for South Mississippi’s three remaining Class 5A schools.
The playoffs kick off with three difficult matchups for Pascagoula, Picayune and Stone.
While Picayune (10-1) gets to host Wingfield (7-4), the Tomcats (8-3) visit reigning Class 5A South State runner-up Laurel (10-1). Pascagoula (6-5), meanwhile, gets the task of knocking off the reigning state champs, Wayne County (6-5).
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Wayne County’s campaign to repeat didn’t get off to a smooth start as Todd Mangum’s bunch lost its first four games (to Vicksburg, Oak Grove, Meridian and Louisiana’s Archbishop Rummel).
The War Eagles promptly flipped a switch once region play started and reeled off six unanswered wins. Their only region blemish was in last week’s regular season finale, a decisive 41-7 loss to Laurel.
Junior quarterback Zabryan Jackson has provided the bulk of Wayne County’s offense, passing for 516 yards, rushing for 673 and accounting for 10 touchdowns. Seniors Chris Cooley and Schdarious Chambers have rotated work at running back, combining for 1,499 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Wayne County’s defense has been tough on opponents, totaling 20 interceptions and 29 sacks.
As for Pascagoula, senior Reginald Hunter continues to be the bell cow. The talented senior eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing on the season last Friday with a 149-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Panthers’ overtime thriller.
Like Wayne County, Pascagoula stumbled in the opening weeks. The Panthers got things corrected just before region play but are 2-2 in the final four weeks with losses to Hattiesburg and Picayune alternated between wins over Pearl River Central and Gautier.
Perhaps Friday night’s 37-31 overtime win will energize the Panthers going into the postseason. We’ll find out Friday night.
It’s probably safe to say Picayune appears to be back and primed for another deep playoff run.
After struggling a year ago, the Maroon Tide bulldozed through a difficult 2016 slate that included 6A wins over eventual 4-6A champ D’Iberville, St. Martin, Gulfport and Harrison Central. The only blemish on Dodd Lee’s schedule this year came in the form of a 38-31 double-overtime loss to Stone and former assistant coach John Feaster.
Earlier in the year Lee told the Sun Herald his team doesn’t get too high or too low, which has been a key to the Tide’s success.
“Really, we just take every day one day at a time because everything can change in a second,” he said after the team’s 3-0 start. “Our kids, we’re just going to try and stay even keel, not read about how good y’all say they are. Believe it or not, that makes a difference.
“If you start believing in how good you are, something bad will happen.”
The Falcons’ offense is built around dynamic quarterback La’Andre Thomas, who has a Southern Miss offer according to Scout.com. Thomas has passed for 3,069 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for another 906 yards and 16 scores. He has also thrown 16 interceptions, so turnovers are a possibility for a Tide defense that has the ninth-best scoring defense in all of 5A at 221 total points allowed.
Picayune’s offense wasn’t too shabby, totaling 470 points, second in 5A only to Hattiesburg.
Senior running back Josh Littles played in 10 of the Tide’s 11 games, rushing for 2,006 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead Picayune’s attack.
Stone at Laurel
Feaster has done an impressive job at Stone, lifting the program to historic heights in his first year as head coach.
The Tomcats’ historic season continues on Friday with a monumental matchup at Laurel.
Feaster’s team will have its hands full as the Golden Tornadoes have one of the state’s most dangerous offenses, led by quarterback-receiver tandem Tyquan Ulmer and Dontario Drummond.
Ulmer, who has offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Louisville according to 247Sports.com, has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 2,517 yards and 32 interceptions while throwing just six interceptions. He’s also Laurel’s leading rusher with 743 yards and four touchdowns.
Drummond, Ulmer’s go-to target, is among the state’s leaders with 1,128 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns on 59 catches.
A shootout could be ahead as the Tomcats come to town with one of the classification’s more dangerous offenses.
Led by running back Terrion Avery, one of three Coast backs to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing this season, the Tomcats averaged nearly 38 points a night while surrendering around 22.
Avery was a self-propelled highlight reel with every carry and finished the regular season with 2,115 yards and 25 touchdowns. In all 11 games, Avery eclipsed 100 yards and averaged a robust 8.1 yards per carry.
Stone’s offense has other players capable of leading as well in quarterback Preston Stringer (672 yards, nine touchdowns), receiver Nick Brown (29 receptions, 423 yards, 10 touchdowns) and running back Kentrell McCray (458 yards, eight touchdowns).
Defensive back R’Tarriun Johnson also gets a look as Stone’s defensive MVP, leading the Tomcats with 123 tackles and four interceptions.
Game: Pascagoula at Wayne County
Radio: 104.9 FM
Game: Wingfield at Picayune
Radio: 1320 AM
Game: Stone at Laurel
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