There are no extra motivational speeches needed from the coaches at Moss Point and Pascagoula this week.
At 7 p.m. on Friday in Pascagoula, the two intense rivals collide in the season opener for the annual “Battle of the Cats.”
Ever since Pascagoula hired away head coach Lewis Sims from Moss Point in 2011, the rivalry has mostly been a one-sided affair with the Panthers winning the last five games.
As a Moss Point player, Moss Point coach and Pascagoula coach, Sims has spent much of the last three decades playing some role in one of the state's most heated rivalries. Sims said Wednesday that the dynamic between the two programs has changed little during that stretch.
“I think to the people in the two communities, the importance hasn't diminished at all,” Sims said. “It's the premier rivalry in Jackson County, the Battle of the Cats. Whether you're on Moss Point's side or Pascagoula's side, you know what's at stake. It's bragging rights for a a year. You want to play well against your neighbor. I don't think there's any diminished intensity in the rivalry.”
Moss Point coach Willie Brown is entering his third season and he has grown to appreciate what the Pascagoula game means to the Tigers and their fans.
“It's almost like a playoff game,” Brown said. “It's like you're preparing to play in the playoffs. It doesn't even seem like a non-district game. There's a lot on the line.”
Pascagoula won last season's game 13-0 at Moss Point. The Panthers finished the season with a 9-4 mark while Moss Point closed strong for a 7-6 campaign.
This year's Pascagoula-Moss Point game will feature some of the best running backs you'll find anywhere on the Coast.
Pascagoula has the talented senior duo of Reginald Hunter and Javarous Walker. Moss Point will rely on another senior runner, Omni Wells, to carry much of the load.
Hunter finished 2015 with 1,364 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns while Walker sat out the season with a knee injury after putting up a team high of seven rushing scores in 2014.
Wells played a big role in Moss Point's late surge last season that included a pair of playoff wins. He rushed for 1,386 yards, including 386 and five touchdowns in a 62-51 win over North Pike in the postseason.
“We have to have to be able to run the football and we have to be able to stop the run,” Brown said. “Whoever is successful in the running game will have the advantage.”
Sims likes what he has seen out of Hunter in recent weeks.
“Hunter has really been locked in this fall camp,” Sims said. “He's focused and he's shown the ability to understand what we've been trying to do. The biggest leap he's made is understanding what's going on. He's able to coach his teammates. He can step up and tell younger guys what to do. We're working on relentless effort at all times.”
Sims wasn't ready Wednesday to name a starting quarterback for Friday's opener. Sims has watched three seniors battle for the right to start – Granlund Torjusen, Hunter Collins and Damon McLaurin.
Torjusen has plenty of experience after receiving starts as a sophomore and junior.
“They're still neck and neck,” Sims said. “We have a good feeling who our quarterback is going to be. We've got three seniors vying for the position and all three should see playing time.”