The Region 4-6A schedule opens Friday with an intriguing rivalry showdown at Buddy Singleton Field as the Biloxi Indians travel to No. 8 D’Iberville.
There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the meeting for a number of reasons.
Anytime rivals — separated by just a quick drive — tangle, emotions can play a big role in the game, and Friday should be no different. Many of the players have grown up competing against one another in various sports and some have even crossed into “enemy territory” to suit up for the other squad, adding to the rivalry.
And then there’s new D’Iberville coach Eric Collins, who has the Warriors 2-2 to start the 2016 season but coming off of a lopsided 40-14 loss to No. 2 St. Stanislaus. His team will welcome Bobby Hall’s Indians, who are also 2-2 but rode a two-game winning streak into last week’s bye week.
Recent history would suggest D’Iberville has an edge as the Warriors have won each of the last four games, claiming the final three meetings in rather decisive fashion.
Biloxi, however, hopes the good vibes from its recent winning, combined with an extra week to prepare, lead to the Indians’ first win in the series since 2011.
One of the biggest takeaways from D’Iberville’s 40-14 loss was its eight false start penalties, which were very uncharacteristic of Collins’ team despite implementing a new offense. The Warriors have several players who are capable of breaking big runs, but for the most part the run heavy offense must remain “on schedule” to have success.
“That has not been our (modus operandi),” Collins said. “Our kids have to know we have to bring our best focus every single game. You can’t have lapses.
“We preach to them all the time we can’t play from behind the chains and we did that all night (against SSC).”
Although it’s a big rivalry game, Collins said practice has been crisp, which is a good sign.
“I don’t hype those things up,” he said. “There’s emotion in the rivalry, but the rah-rah doesn’t win games. Focus and execution does.
“Let the fans and students do the talking.”
Scouting the Indians, it’s obvious who the Warriors will need to focus on to be successful: Former D’Iberville athlete Tucker Thomas and standout receiver Tim Jones.
“They’re obviously good football players so we’ll have to be at our best,” Collins said. “You have to be assignment sound. With the read option and things they do you can’t be undisciplined.”
Collins pointed to Southern Miss commit Tyler Barnes, Mike McCoy and D.J. Polk as players the Warriors must lean on to push their winning streak in the series to five games.
Barnes is currently one of the Coast’s top tacklers with 48. McCoy leads DHS with 2.5 tackles, while Polk has been a leader in the secondary with team-highs in interceptions (2) and pass breakups (5).
“Big players make big plays at big times,” Collins said.
Like D’Iberville, Biloxi will need to clean up some things if it wants a win Friday.
While the defense has allowed 25 points per game, the offense has scored just over 16 points per contest.
The biggest issue? Turnovers.
Thomas has added a new dimension to Biloxi’s offense, throwing for 444 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for a team-best 292 yards and two scores. Thomas, however, has also thrown three interceptions and is credited with four of Biloxi’s eight lost fumbles on the season. As Hall pointed out, Friday will only be Thomas’ fifth varsity start at quarterback in his career, so he’s still learning the position.
“We need to do a better job in all facets,” Hall said. “We're making explosive plays, which is something I thought we would do, but turnovers are our biggest issue.”
One player to watch moving forward is running back Kenyatta Harrell. The freshman broke out for 88 yards on 12 carries against Gautier two weeks ago and could be a big factor for the Indians moving forward.
If the Indians are going to slow D’Iberville’s ground-and-pound offense, Hall said he’ll need a complete effort from his defense. Specifically, Hall looks to linebackers Anthony Crouse and D.J. Smith, coupled with linemen Noah Griffith, Blayr Case and Skyler Talavera, and defensive backs Tyler Price and Jiles Bradfield to lead again on Friday.
“We've got to get stops on third down because they're very good running the ball. That's what they do and their personality,” Hall said. “Coach Collins is very good at running the Wing-T. We’ve got to be very, very disciplined and stick to our assignments.”
Collins and Hall have met twice before, when they were at Tupelo and Madison Central respectively. Collins won the 2007 meeting 21-3, while Madison Central rallied the following year for a 24-21 victory.
Although the coaches have a level of history, both said they can’t draw much from their previous meetings.
Perhaps the biggest reason is Collins ran a spread offense back then with the likes of quarterback Chris Garrett and receiver Chad Bumphis running the show.
“You look back and try to remember what trick plays they ran or strange things that are in the back of the playbook,” Collins said, “but ultimately you'll get what you see on film.”
If you can’t make it out to the football field on Friday, be sure to log onto SunHerald.com or download the free Sun Herald app to keep up with all of the action from across South Mississippi.
What: Biloxi vs. D’Iberville
Where: Buddy Singleton Field at Warrior Stadium
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Radio: Biloxi (WXBD 1490 AM, WTNI 1640 AM); D’Iberville (WGCM 1240AM)