With a couple of wins Friday night, Pearl River County will play host to the Class 4A and Class 5A South State title games on Nov. 25.
Picayune hosts Wayne County at 7 p.m. Friday night in a Class 5A South State semifinal and 120 miles away, Poplarville will be on the road at Mendenhall in a Class 4A South State semifinal.
Picayune and Wayne County will meet for the fourth consecutive season in the playoffs with the War Eagles winning the last two meetings by a combined score of 100-35.
“Wayne County is an elite 5A team in the South,” Picayune coach Dodd Lee said this week. “It always seems like South State goes through there in our eyes. They may see us the same way. It always seems you've got to go through Wayne County.”
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Picayune (11-1) thumped Wingfield 63-30 last week while Wayne County (7-5) is coming off a hard fought 31-24 win over Pascagoula.
With a win, Picayune will host the winner of Hattiesburg and Laurel next week.
The question for Picayune Friday night is whether senior running back Josh Littles will be on the field as he battles his way back from an ankle injury.
Littles has run 237 times for 2,088 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.
“I tell you what, I've spent more time trying to get him healthy this week than I have coaching,” Lee said. “He's a little better. I'm just so proud of the other two kids who stepped in and played for him. It would really help to get him healthy, but we're not going to find out until Friday night. He's not practicing. He's not doing anything but rehabbing that ankle. He moves around well, but you don't know until you get out there.”
Shaun Anderson and David Baker filled in well for Littles last week. Anderson ran 13 times for 212 yards and Baker had 14 carries for 112 yards.
Wayne County has been tough on the ground this season with three rushers with 100 or more carries this season - Senior Chris Cooley has 946 yards and 12 touchdowns, Zabryan Jackson has 751 yards and seven touchdowns and senior Schadarius Chambers has accounted for 693 yards and nine scores.
“They're a typical Wayne County team,” Lee said. “They're hard nosed, play good defense. They have so much speed and quickness on defense. On offense, they're run the play-action out of spread formations.”
Just as it is every Friday night, the team who plays the cleanest game will move on with a victory.
“We very seldom have lost the turnover battle and won a game,” Lee said.
Poplarville wary of Mendenhall
Poplarville (10-1) is considered the favorite to win the 4A South State championship and reach the State Finals.
The Hornets travel to Mendenhall in the 4A state quarterfinals. The Tigers upset two-time defending 4A South state titlist St. Stanislaus 30-22 in double overtime last week.
“When you beat the number one team in 4A, you know they have talent and capable of beating anybody,” Hornets coach Jay Beech said.
Beech is concerned with Poplarville stopping the high-powered Mendenhall offense led by quarterback Quantavian Dampeer, running back Deion Dampier and wide receiver Zykeil Woodard.
Dampier has rushed for over 1,100 yards rushing. Dampeer has thrown for 963 yards, 10 touchdowns, rushing for 368 more and eight more scores. Woodard has 34 catches for 646 yards and eight touchdowns receiving.
“Mendenhall has three of the best offensive weapons in the state,” Beech said. “Anytime Mendenhall has the ball, they can score.”
Poplarville's Wing-T offense features pair of 1,300 yard rushers: Jesse Pernell and Austin Bolton. Pernell has rushed for a team-high 1,374 yards and scored 22 touchdowns on 155 carries. Bolton has rushed 155 times for 1,331 yards and 16 Tds.
Beech credits Poplarville's offensive success to Hornets' offensive coordinator Jacob Owen.
“Coach Owen has done an outstanding job of getting the offense ready each week,” Beech said. “We're not overly impressive, but the kids have heart, bought into what we're doing and get after it. We have faith in them.”
Beech believes mistakes will determine if the Hornets advance to next week's 4A South State Finals.
“The key to winning is turnovers,” Beech said. “We need to win the turnover battle. We need to limit their big offensive plays and force them to drive on us. If we do those things, we'll be in great shape to win the game.”
Class 5A South State semifinal: Wayne County at Picayune (Radio: 1320 AM)
Class 4A South State semifinal: Mendenhall at Poplarville (Radio: WRJW.com)
Both games start at 7 p.m.
Go to SunHerald.com for live updates and scores from all of Friday night’s football playoff games.