Lets just say No. 1 Poplarville and No. 4 Stone are pretty familiar with one another.
The Hornets (3-0) and Tomcats (2-0) will clash in Perkinston on Friday for the 11th time in 15 seasons.
Here’s what you need to know about the big showdown at A.L. May Memorial Stadium.
Familiar foes: Coaches John Feaster and Jay Beech go way back. Feaster and Beech played against one another when they attended Picayune and Pearl River Central, respectively, before joining forces on the Pearl River Community College defense in the early 2000s. Back at their alma maters they later faced each other as assistant coaches before moving on to lead their own programs.
Hornets own recent series: The Tomcats haven’t had a lot of luck in the series of late. The Tomcats actually were victorious in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but won just once in the next seven meetings heading into Friday. Last year’s game came down to the final minutes. Although Stone led going into the final frame, Poplarville scored the final 10 points to secure the 38-35 victory.
Not surprisingly, Poplarville’s Jesse Pernell and Austin Bolton did the bulk of the damage a year ago, combining to rush for 328 yards and five touchdowns. Terrion Avery had a day, too, rushing for 135 yards and two scores.
“I expect them to come out and play well. They’re a well coached ballclub with confidence. They believe in what they’re doing,” Feaster said. “They have the upper hand since it has been a while since Stone beat Poplarville. But we try to approach it as a new year, new team, new goals.”
Running for days: Although Pernell and Avery have graduated to PRCC and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, the Hornets and Tomcats haven’t missed a beat with their ground and pound attacks. Bolton is back for PHS and is once again among the Coast’s top rushers with 473 yards and eight touchdowns on 30 carries. Roosevelt Raine has stepped into the Pernell role as more of a hammer. He has rushed for 329 yards and four scores. Tyson Holston has also emerged in the run game this year and boasts 217 yards and a touchdown through three games.
“Austin hasn’t had that many carries this year. We thought maybe people were overloading on him, so Holston and Roosevelt have taken advantage of it,” Beech said. “They’re fine running backs in their own right. We’re confident anytime we give them the ball.”
As for Stone, the Tomcats are using more of a committee to pick up the slack. In last week’s 28-24 win at Biloxi, six different players registered a carry. Feaster previously said he wanted Trey Arrington to be a lead back, which he was, rushing for 82 yards and two scores. Kentrell McCray, who’s supposed to quarterback the offense, saw his largest workload since returning from a preseason injury. Utilized strictly as a running back against BHS, he rushed 12 times for 88 yards.
“Their running backs run the ball really hard,” Beech said. “They run a good scheme, can hit you on the play action and their receivers can go up and get the ball.”
X-factor: Perhaps the biggest X-factor on Friday will be Stone athlete Enrique Whaley. The senior does a little bit of everything for the Tomcats. A year ago he returned five punts for touchdowns on top of being a lockdown defensive back. Heading into Friday, Whaley already has four interceptions through two games. Against Biloxi, Whaley recorded a pick, rushed twice for 39 yards and also caught three passes for 31 yards and a score.
“He’s going to do a lot for us week to week,” Feaster said. “We’re going to try to put him in plenty of positions to make plays and then he’ll make his own on defense and in the return game.”
Confidence: Poplarville is in uncharted territory for its football program. In addition to being the Sun Herald’s No. 1 team, the Hornets are No. 10 in the Associated Press’ overall rankings plus top its Class 4A poll.
Beech said the added attention can serve as motivation without hindering their team goals.
“I think they’re handling it pretty well. They’re determined to keep their ranking. They have a refuse to lose attitude,” he said. “That’s just the mentality of our kids.”
Who: Poplarville at Stone
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: A.L. May Memorial Stadium, Perkinston
Online: For LIVE updates of all the Coast’s games, visit SunHerald.com