My first full football season in the Sun Herald's sports department hasn't disappointed. I've been fortunate to be assigned to some incredibly entertaining games and I expect Friday's tilt at Milner Stadium to continue the trend. No. 1 Ocean Springs at No. 2 Gulfport. Does it get much better than that on the Coast with both teams undefeated in Region 4-6A? Over the last 10 games, Ocean Springs holds a slight 6-4 advantage. During that stretch, the Greyhounds have out-scored the Admirals 197-150, with each team possessing one shutout. Ocean Springs won last year 13-6. The Admirals won in 2013, 27-22.
2. Finding a way
The biggest similarity to me is both teams just find a way to win. I've seen a handful of Gulfport's wins this year where they've had to respond late with a score. The same was true of Ocean Springs on Friday night against rival St. Martin. After allowing Wayne Overman III to plunge into the end zone for a 2-yard score and the ensuring on-side kick, the Greyhounds didn't panic. Heck, the student section, swaying iPhones back and forth like lighters, immediately started singing "Don't Stop Believin'." All the Greyhounds did was mount an 11-play drive from their own 19 with 1:09 remaining.
Credit quarterback Drew Windham, running back Matthew Pleasant and receiver Austin Williams for moving the chains to get within Brad Wall's kicking range.
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"A lot of it is maturity. They've done it before and believe they can do it again," Ocean Springs coach Ryan Ross said. "Drew did an exception
al job of not panicking and playing to the moment. With the game on the line I thought a lot of that was maturity, and a lot of it was confidence as far as believing in everybody to do their job so he could just turn it loose and do his."
Luckily, I don't need to make my prediction yet. I feel like I go back and forth hourly on who will come away leading 4-6A. The one thing I am confident of: It's going to be a title bout not to be missed.
3. Rankings shakeup
It's tough to beat a team twice in football, let alone in consecutive weeks. But that's what No. 8 Gulf Coast will look to do Saturday as the Bulldogs welcome Itawamba back to the (unfriendly) confines of A.L. May Memorial Stadium.
Kickoff for the MACJC playoff opener at Perk is set for 2 p.m. The winner will face whoever comes out of No. 2 Northwest and No. 17 East Central.
Tuesday's NJCAA rankings saw East Mississippi slip from No. 3 to No. 10, eliminating the Lions from postseason contention. The Rangers jumped up to No. 2 and Copiah-Lincoln, which beat Gulf Coast in overtime, climbed to No. 7. Following the loss to Co-Lin, the Bulldogs slipped from No. 7 to No. 11. With potentially two games remaining, if you're a Bulldogs supporter you have to wonder where your team would be had they knocked off the Wolfpack. Possibly top 5? Top 4 with a real chance at a national title berth? That being said, if Gulf Coast can sweep ICC, it will likely have to go through the Rangers, who won the earlier meeting 26-10. Can Gulf Coast get back into the national title picture? It's not likely but crazier things have happened.
4. Don't assume anything
For those who only saw the box score and expect Gulf Coast to roll ICC on Saturday, I've got news for you. I'd be surprised if the Bulldogs roll the Indians by 31 points again.
Let's not kid ourselves, last week's homecoming game didn't mean much outside of putting on a show for the folks who pick that game to attend every year. With the Bulldogs and Indians locked into the playoffs, and all of a sudden facing one another in consecutive weeks, the play calling was muted a bit. Gulf Coast defensive coordinator Steve Davis said as much after the game.
After the 38-7 loss, ICC coach Sean Cannon really laid into his team. I'm sure the loss provided Cannon plenty of motivational ammunition this week.
"There will be some good teaching when we watch the film Monday," Cannon said after the loss. "But they beat us physically. Their Jimmies and Joes were better than ours today.
"It's frustrating because you want the kids to rise up to challenges -- not only in football but in life -- and we backed down today. Maybe we'll give them a better game next week. I don't know. Can't go anywhere but up -- can't get much worse."
Cannon paused before adding: "This is kind of like 'Rocky III' with Clubber Lang where maybe he beats me one time but I can come back and give him another fight. Train a little harder and chase the chicken around or whatever. Who knows."
5. A recruiting steal
Southern Miss may have landed a future star on Sunday when D'Iberville's Jacques Turner committed.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Turner could be a versatile player for the Golden Eagles who could either bulk up to play along the line or slim down to play linebacker.
When he committed, he was the only senior on the Coast not named Jacquelle Green who held a "Power 5" offer (Purdue).
"He's been under the radar," D'Iberville coach Buddy Singleton said of Turner during the preseason. "He's had good years for us but he hasn't stood out a lot. I think the people who have actually seen him (play) see a lot of potential.
"He's probably a defensive end in college. He's got good quickness. I think that's what a lot of the colleges like about him on his highlight video. They can see him coming off of the corner.
"I think they see he's kind of like a diamond in the rough with a lot of potential. That's why he has so many offers."
Other suitors were Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette, Ohio, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama and Troy.
6. Off to a fast start
Former D'Iberville standout Dylan Hardy is apparently getting noticed during fall ball at South Alabama.
USA concluded its fall practice Oct. 18 with the annual Red-Blue Series. Coach Mark Calvi had some nice things to say about Hardy, who will look to find his way onto the field early as a freshman in some role, whether it be as a pinch runner or defensive replacement.
When USA signed Hardy, Calvi raved about the D'Iberville standout's speed.
"Hardy is the fastest guy in this Southeast area that we have seen in the past year," he said at the time. "We're excited about having him. He has something you can't teach, and that's true speed."
Apparently Hardy is continuing to burn up the base paths at USA.
"Dylan Hardy is one of the fastest kids I have seen in 23 years on the baseball field," Calvi said on USA Jaguars.com, adding Hardy runs a 6.3-second 60-yard dash.
7. Heading to the outfield
After playing him mostly along the infield and pitching at D'Iberville, the Jags will look to move Hardy to the outfield.
"We think it's best suited for him to learn how to play in the outfield with the way he can run and go get the baseball. He is working on his defense every single day."
While a role player is possible, don't be surprised if the former Warrior forces his way into the starting lineup.
8. Games to remember
The NBA season is finally upon us. With former Coast standouts Devin Booker (Moss Point) and Isaiah Canaan (Biloxi), there are plenty of games South Mississippians need to mark on their calendars:
n Today -- Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns: Booker makes his long-awaited NBA debut at 9 p.m. as his Suns host the Mavericks.
n Nov. 27 and April 9 -- Suns at New Orleans Pelicans: Booker will play in the Big Easy twice this season.
n Dec. 26 and Jan. 26 -- Philadelphia 76ers vs. Suns: Booker and Canaan will square off twice this season. The first time will come in the desert the day after Christmas, and their second meeting a month later in Philly.
n Feb. 19 -- 76ers at Pelicans: Canaan plays at New Orleans just once this season, Feb. 19.
9. The (Other) Patrick's Picks
For entertainment purposes only (at my expense) ... The Rebels (-7, according to MGM Resorts International) have a chance to pile on the Tigers, who are coming off of a quad-ruple-OT loss against Arkansas. Expect the Rebels to build off of the lopsided Aggies win and top the Tigers by 14 ... Can the Will Grier-less Gators (-2) or the Nick Chubb-less Bulldogs prevail? It won't be pretty, but Florida remains in the driver's seat in the SEC East with a 10-point win over Dawgs ... Vanderbilt (+11 1/2) got its first league win in the Derek Mason era last week. The 'Dores won't string wins together against a very good Houston team. Cougars by 14 ... Expect Texas A&M (-16) to get back to its winning ways this week against a defenseless South Carolina squad. Gig 'Em -- Aggies by 24 ... Tennessee (-7 1/2) will win by 14 at Kentucky, but let's not pretend the Volunteers, which could very easily run the table the rest of the way, are back. They're not, they're just going to beat up on terrible teams -- UK, South Carolina, Missouri, North Texas and Vanderbilt -- the rest of the way.
Patrick Ochs, a Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at PatrickOchs.