The regular season in Class 6A proved to be interesting down to the final horn last Friday night, with four teams duking it out for playoff seeding.
The post-season won't look to be any easier to predict for Gulfport (9-2 overall), Harrison Central (6-6), Ocean Springs (8-3) and D'Iberville (6-6).
Meridian at Gulfport
The Admirals' "reward" for winning Region 4-6A with an unblemished 7-0 mark is a home game against Meridian.
"Anytime you get to the playoffs you're going to be playing good people. We've played good people all year. Our kids know they're up for a challenge," GHS coach Eddie Pierce said. "(Meridian's record) is not indicative of their team."
The Wildcats (6-5) were expected to be state contenders heading into the season but lost their first three games -- granted to power houses Madison Central, South Panola and Wayne County -- by a combined 17 points.
Since then, Meridian posted a 6-2 mark. A big reason for the preseason hype was the amount of Division 1 seniors on the Wildcats roster. The Wildcats boast defensive tackles Raekwon Davis (Alabama) and Julius Turner (Louisiana Tech), defensive backs Zaire Jones (Vanderbilt) and Quincy Lenton (Florida) and receiver Daniel Crowell, who was previously committed to Ole Miss.
"Meridian is big and fast, and a well-rounded team," Pierce said. "We're going to have to play four quarters."
The two teams squared off in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, with the Wildcats winning in a 49-46 in a shootout.
"If we had 10 more seconds we might have been able to pull it out," Pierce said.
Petal at Harrison Central
Petal (7-4) is riding a four-game winning streak into Friday's showdown at Harrison Central, the Red Rebels' first time hosting since 2009.
"Their strong point is their offense," first-year coach Casey Cain said. "We have a big challenge in stopping their passing game."
The trigger man for the Panthers' versatile offense is senior quarterback Samuel Hopper, who has thrown for 1,764 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has been able to spread the ball around this season, with five receivers who have caught at least 14 passes. Should they decide to run the ball, Stephon Huderson has done plenty of damage. The junior running back has ripped off 1,416 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"We just have to mix it up on (Hopper) and play some zone, while also being able to pressure him some," Cain said.
The Red Rebels are no stranger to coming up big when their backs are against the wall. After losing consecutive region games at St. Martin and Gulfport, HCHS won the last three games to clinch second place in the region.
"We're trying to play our best at the right time. It's a situation where it was do or die, and it's been do or die for a couple of weeks and the kids have responded," Cain said. "I think it's helped where we've been on both ends of the sticks. We've won some heart breakers and lost some, too. They know to play until the very last whistle blows."
Ocean Springs at Oak Grove
There's little doubt what Oak Grove (9-2) wants to do when it takes the field: Throw the football -- a lot.
"They're very athletic. They've got athletes all over the field who make plays when they need to," OSHS coach Ryan Ross said. "They're very talented."
Senior Alex Ward is among the state's leaders after throwing for more than 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns during the regular season. Three receivers have 30-plus receptions. Both Jordan Duncan, a Cal commit, and Charles Hartfield have 10 touchdowns, with Duncan registering 63 receptions for 860 yards and Hartfield hauling in 49 passes for 1,018 yards.
"He's got a lot of football left in his career. That's obvious," Ross said of Duncan. "I see an explosive player on both sides of the ball."
The Greyhounds will need one of their better defensive performances on Friday to pull out the road win.
"Defensively, you have to do your job," Ross said. "You have to be disciplined and try not to do more than you can because they have willing and able bodies all over the field who can hurt you."
D'Iberville at Brandon
The Bulldogs (10-2) graduated one of the state's more prolific passers in Gardner Minshew and didn't miss a beat. Brandon has out-scored teams 357-180 this season. Junior Brady Anderson completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,813 yards and 15 touchdowns to lead Brandon. The Bulldogs also have three running backs who have shouldered the bulk of the attempts, combining for 1,401 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"They're going to be a tough opponent," D'Iberville coach Buddy Singleton said. "I feel like we're going to have to play one of our better games."
Singleton put emphasis on the team's offense, which has out-scored opponents 354-333.
"If we can control the football and limit the turnovers I think we have a shot," Singleton said.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have applied constant pressure on the opposing quarterback. Seniors Ivin White and Jake Cockrell have racked up eight and seven sacks, with five other defenders accounting for four or more.
The Warriors' offense continues to run through Louisville commit Jacquelle Green. The senior has passed for 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns, and rushed for another 1,459 yards and 19 scores.
D'Iberville's defense has had its moments as well, with seniors Jacques Turner, Barry Leonardi and Ty Peters, and sophomore Chad Searight leading the unit. Searight has a team-high 99 tackles, followed bu Leonardi's 96 and Turner's 93. Turner and Leonardi also have seven and 6.5 sacks respectively, with Peters registering five.