The first year on the job has gone about as well as could have been expected for the head coaches at George County and D’Iberville.
On Friday, they begin their pursuit for postseason success.
George County’s Matt Caldwell and D’Iberville’s Eric Collins both lead their teams into home games in the first round of the Class 6A South State playoffs. George County (7-4) plays host to Meridian (9-3) and Petal (7-4) travels to D’Iberville (8-3).
Gulfport (6-6) and Biloxi (6-5) are both on the road in the first round. The Admirals are at Brandon (9-3) and Pearl (8-3) will host the Indians.
Region 4-6A teams are looking for a rebound after losing all four playoff games in the first round a year ago.
The region’s two newest coaches hope to put a halt to that trend.
Collins delivered a Region 4-6A regular season title in his first year at D’Iberville while Caldwell led the Rebels to their first playoff bid since 2010.
Collins turned an underachieving program into a winner at Pearl River Central before he landed at D’Iberville this year. Caldwell also arrived at George County as a proven winner after going 41-13 in four years at tradition-rich Taylorsville.
Friday’s playoff game is the first in Lucedale in 2007 when the Rebels made a run to the Class 5A state title game, losing 28-21 to South Panola in Jackson.
There’s been a buzz around Lucedale this week with the Rebels finally back in the playoffs.
“The community is excited,” Caldwell said. “It’s a big deal for our program and school. That was our goal and we’re here. We want to win because we want to move on and keep going this year. Getting there is one thing, but being successful is totally different.”
D’Iberville is no stranger to the postseason, reaching the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons.
Even though Collins had an impressive résumé, there was a healthy amount of skepticism from Warrior fans when he was first hired. He’s proven the doubters wrong with each week.
Last week’s 35-21 win over rival St. Martin at home helped further prove that the swagger is back for D’Iberville football.
“I would be disappointed if the crowd is not gigantic Friday night,” Collins said. “I know we’re going to bring a big crowd. Petal will bring a big crowd. The atmosphere is going to be awesome and that’s what it’s supposed to be.
“There’s nothing better than coaching in November.”
George County is loaded with as much offensive talent as any 6A team in the southern half of the state. Senior quarterback LaRaymond Spivery is the leading passer in the state and the fifth-ranked passer in the nation at 3,964 yards. Spivery, who has completed 67.8 percent of his passes, has thrown for 27 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
He has also run 189 times for 1,171 yards and 15 scores.
“LaRaymond is a tremendous athlete,” Caldwell said. “He’s bought into what we’re doing. He’s just done a real good job commanding the offense. He threw for almost 4,000 yards in the regular season, but the only stat that matters at the end of the day is in the win column.
“He’s also got some amazing weapons to work with.”
Spivery has three gifted senior receivers in Tyrese Fryfogle, Dwan Williams and Kaleb Gentry. Fryfogle has 83 catches for 1,392 yards and 12 touchdowns. Williams has pulled in 79 passes for 1,323 yards and eight scores. Gentry has 56 catches for 741 yards and six touchdowns.
Meridian is again one of the more talented teams in South State and is using a two-quarterback system with sophomore Tevarrius Adams and senior Eddie Brown. Both are good athletes who can pass the ball.
Meridian has a tough defense that features Southern Miss commit Santrell Lathem, a senior linebacker who has 81 tackles.
D’Iberville will look to grind out a playoff win behind a potent triple-option offense that has picked up steam with each week. The Warriors have three running backs with at least 700 yards rushing, led by senior Micah Booker who has 190 yards for 1,003 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“I think we’ve played better football every week since (losing 55-21 to George County on Oct. 7),” Collins said. “We’re doing a lot of things better and playing our best entering the playoffs.”
Petal, which lost to Starkville in the state title game last year, is a little banged up with star running back Stephon Huderson missing the last three weeks with an injury, but senior Xavier Yancey has filled in well in his absence.
“They’re just very sound in what they do,” Collins said. “They have some great players on both sides of the ball. They’re extremely well coached. They’re always in the right spot. They’ve got a great tradition behind them.”
Region 4-6A playoff games:
Meridian at George County
Petal at D’Iberville
Gulfport at Brandon
Biloxi at Pearl
Go to SunHerald.com to follow LIVE updates and scores from all the the high school football games across the Coast.