Last year's “Battle of the Cats” provided one of the most important regular season wins for Moss Point in quite some time.
The Tigers traveled to Pascagoula and swaggered back to The Point with an 18-13 victory to end a five-game losing streak in one of the state's most intense rivalries.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, Moss Point will walk into Jerry Alexander Stadium under new leadership. Eugene Harmon, who spent the last five seasons as a member of the Moss Point staff, is in his first season as the program's head coach. He replaces Willie Brown, who is now on the staff at Hazlehurst.
It may be his first “Battle of the Cats” as head coach, but Harmon knows what he's walking into Friday night.
“I respect (the rivalry) very much,” Harmon said. “You never know what's going to happen in a rivalry game. Both sides will be pretty jacked up for the game. It's one of those games where you never know what's going to happen.”
Pascagoula holds a 39-36-3 edge in a series that began in 1925.
It's doubtful that anyone has a greater understanding of the Moss Point-Pascagoula rivalry than Pascagoula head coach Lewis Sims, who is a former Moss Point player and head coach. He is in his seventh season as the Panthers' head coach.
Neither Moss Point or Pascagoula start the 2017 season with lofty expectations, but Sims is confident that the rivalry hasn't lost a bit of intensity.
“After last year, I've got some good friends who live on other side of Jefferson Avenue that don't let a moment go by where they don't remind me that they broke my streak,” Sims said.
Both teams are coming off bumpy performances in jamboree scrimmages last week. East Central beat Pascagoula 23-0 and D'Iberville topped Moss Point 16-0. After the jamboree performance in Hurley, Sims pointed the finger at himself while also challenging his team to step it up in game preparations this week.
Sims was encouraged by his team's response.
“We probably had our best practice of the year on Monday and followed that up with a great day on Tuesday,” Sims said. “They were really locked in and focused more than ever. There were some personnel adjustments we had to make.
“We have to mature quickly as a team, but I'm not quite sure how long that process is going to take.”
Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks for Friday night's game. Moss Point will be rolling with a freshman quarterback, Ruben Lee.
“I feel real good about him,” Harmon said. “We worked on some things (against D'Iberville). He did some good things, but also did some bad things. Those are things that we can can correct. He's right where we expect him to be.”
Pascagoula will likely play a pair of quarterbacks, senior Jonas Burley and sophomore Slade Mink.
“It's going to come down to whoever has the hot hand at the time,” Sims said.
Both teams will likely rely heavily on their running backs. Senior Dalvin “Trey” Abney, who transferred from Moss Point prior to his junior year, will carry the load for Pascagoula. At Moss Point, the Tigers will be relying on Tytus Miles, Devin Simpson and Anthony Kirkland to make plays out of the backfield.
Harmon is entering his first “Battle of the Cats” as a head coach, but he's keeping his cool headed into game day.
“I still approach the game the same way I've always done it the last 20 years,” Harmon said. “It's one game at a time. Everything else will fall in place.”
Who: Moss Point vs. Pascagoula
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Moss Point
Radio: 104.9 FM