BAY ST. LOUIS -- There's never a better time to be playing football in South Mississippi than right now.
Sweltering temperatures have subsided, Thanksgiving break means players can focus on the gridiron and, most importantly, if you're still practicing it means you're still in the hunt for the golden football.
"This is something you live for," St. Stanislaus coach Bill Conides said ahead of Friday's Class 4A South State finals matchup at Lawrence County.
If a fan was only looking at St. Stanislaus' schedule early on, they may have thought the Rockachaws (10-3) had no shot at making another run to the state championship. Through four games, SSC was 1-3 and getting out-scored 161-102 by tough non-region competition. The Rockachaws flipped a switch once Region 8-4A started and never looked back.
"It definitely prepared us," senior lineman Tommy Reeder said of the early slate against St. Paul's Episcopal (Ala.), Brother Martin (La.), Gulfport and Long Beach. "I think it prepared us for this game and if we can win, then next game. It broke us apart and we found ourselves and haven't looked back since. It kind of broke our confidence, but we were forced to find it and we did. That's made the difference moving forward."
Last year, SSC ripped through Mendenhall, Northeast Jones and Forrest County AHS before dismantling Purvis in the South State finals. Friday, the Rockachaws will take their turn against a strong Cougars team.
"We're definitely excited and ready to play," senior Mason Favre said. "We've been here before like last year, so I think we've gotten past the nervousness and we're ready to play."
The Cougars are led by dual-threat QB Charl'trez Nunnery, who has thrown for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 894 and 16. Running back Quitten Brown is dangerous in a number of ways. He's having one of the better seasons in the state after rushing for 1,808 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also leads Lawrence County's receivers with 326 yards and four touchdowns.
When SSC is on offense it will need to account for senior T-Tez Cole. A backup running back and receiver, Cole makes his mark on defense where he leads LCHS with 187 tackles.
"They've won a lot of football games in a row," Conides said. "The level of competition was a little different than what we've faced, but they're certainly a talented bunch both offensively and defensively."
With a potential rematch against Noxubee County at stake, the Rockachaws are anxious for Friday's competition.
"Bring it on," Conides said. "Our kids are resilient. They've seen it all and ultimately know that whatever the other team does, we'll be able to exploit it. It just takes some time sometimes."
Friday marks the first time the Cougars and Rockachaws have faced off since 2010, when SSC's Bo Brennan threw for 314 yards and three scores, and Kollin Cannon rushed for 169 yards in a 30-21 first-round victory.
The winner Friday will face the winner of Greenwood-Noxubee County in the Class 4A championship game in Oxford at 5 p.m. on Dec. 5.