Myles Brennan didn’t hesitate. Always decisive on the football field, the LSU-bound St. Stanislaus quarterback committed to his opinion quickly.
St. Stanislaus has won back-to-back Class 4A South State championships, each time falling just short to Noxubee County. The Rockachaws graduated plenty of talent — and specifically defensive size — last spring, leading to a few obvious questions.
The Rockachaws, no doubt, would be able to score. But could they stop someone when push came to shove? Could their defense take a step forward? Could their offensive line protect Brennan long enough so that coach Bill Conides didn’t have to work a scramble drill into each offensive play?
Through eight games this season, the resounding answer has been yes. SSC is 7-1 with its lone loss coming at Brother Martin.
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The Rockachaws completed their most impressive win against a Mississippi opponent Friday when SSC surged late to win a 70-50 shootout against a potent East Central team that coughed up three fumbles on the night.
So I asked Brennan after the win, are the 2016 Rockachaws better?
“For sure,” he said. “Definitely.”
The team’s averages back him up.
In 15 games last year, SSC’s offense averaged 37.7 points. Its defense surrendered 29.5 points per game. Both numbers have improved rather drastically this season as SSC is scoring at a healthy 41.9 clip while the defense — which was a big question mark heading into the season — has held opponents to 23.5 points.
St. Stanislaus’ defense is comparable to — at the risk of losing some folks — the NHL of the 1980s. Goaltenders weren’t asked to make every save, just the ones that mattered when the game was on the line. It was a bend-but-don’t-break mentality. “Fire wagon” hockey was a fun brand where teams traded shots and chances, but the good teams knew how to step up when they needed to and build a cushion.
That has been SSC this season. St. Stanislaus has yet to pitch a shutout this year, but the Rockachaws have bowed up in rare close games to distance themselves.
Juniors Leo Roos, J.D. Rutherford, Joe Reeder and Lewie Negrotto have been more than merely reliable. Along with seniors Ricky Schaefer, Gaige Prudhomme and Brendan Logan, the St. Stanislaus defense has been downright stingy when called upon.
“We’re not as big up front, but we definitely play with more heart than we did. We’re a more competitive team because we gel better together,” Schaefer said. “We’re a good group. We’ve all played a lot together and know each other well. We have a good chemistry, I guess you could say. I think that’s given us the edge.”
Yes, SSC has Brennan throwing to three Division I receivers in Chase Rogers, Darius Pittman and Corbin Blanchard, but the Rockachaws have been winning as a team, not just as an offense as in years past.
“Our team responded to adversity extremely well,” Conides said Friday. “That’s something we preach all the time. Never get down on yourself. Never get down on your teammates. Always trust that your teammates are going to come through for you. That’s ultimately what we did.
“In order for us to be a champion, we have to be able to build off of each other. Build off of our successes, but ultimately say, ‘Hey, man, I got your back.’”
SSC can’t sleepwalk through its final two regular-season games — at Moss Point and at home against Pass Christian.
Once the playoffs start, Class 4A seems wide open. In years past, SSC and Noxubee County were destined to collide in the championship game. This year any number of schools could stand between SSC and a 4A title.
Here are five teams who could pose as speed bumps in SSC’s quest:
- Poplarville (6-1, 3-0) is just out of this week’s AP Top 5 but the Hornets have allowed the fifth fewest points in Class 4A at 129. MaxPreps.com’s algorithm gives the Hornets the fourth-best chance at winning a 4A title. Running backs Austin Bolton and Jesse Pernell have combined for more than 1,600 yards and continue to give opponents fits.
- West Lauderdale (9-0, 3-0) has yet to allow 100 points this season and currently sits at 9-0.
- Lafayette (6-2, 3-0) made postseason runs the last couple of seasons and has plenty of talent to find its way to Starkville this year.
- East Central (5-4, 2-1) could be a threat if it cuts down on turnovers. Fumbles have been absolute killers.
- Noxubee County (5-4, 3-0) isn’t the same team from the last couple of years, but until the Tigers are officially eliminated, they’re still the reigning champs.
One more thought
Where’s Warren? I’ve been chewing on this for a couple weeks, but how did Long Beach’s J’arius Warren not make one of the state’s all-star games?
The senior Bearcat checks all the boxes coaches look for in these situations. Through nine games, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Warren has recorded 106 tackles and is once again taking down ballcarriers at an 11.8 clip.
Warren is a Navy commit and a team leader for the Bearcats.
If you want to argue there wasn’t room for Warren on the initial Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game roster, fine. That’s the toughest all-star game to qualify for and an elite group of standouts.
But how does Warren not earn a spot on the South’s roster in the Bernard Blackwell All-Star Game? There still could be some roster shuffling as players will inevitably get injured or pull out.
The South would be wise to find a way to add the versatile Long Beach tackle machine.