Only three Class 4A programs remain undefeated entering region play Friday. Two of them will meet in Poplarville when the Sun Herald’s top-ranked team hosts upstart Greene County at 7 p.m.
On one sideline will be the Hornets (5-0), the reigning South State champions armed with one of the top rushing attacks in the state. Across the field will be the upstart Wildcats (6-0), ranked fifth in 4A in the latest Associated Press Mississippi High School rankings. The meeting should make for one of the better matchups across South Mississippi on Friday.
The impressive start isn’t anything new for Jay Beech’s Hornets; however it’s very new for a Wildcats program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2012.
“Maybe not schematically, but they’re what we are kind of trying to be like,” new Greene County coach Michael King said Wednesday. “They’re a team that comes in with a plan every week and plays really hard. That’s our goal, to be similar to what they are.”
King said arguably the biggest thing that stands out from watching Poplarville is their confidence, not so much individually but collectively. They know what they want to do and they do it, unwilling to change their philosophies, instead making opponents adjust to them.
“We talked about why Poplarville has been successful,” King said. “They are a really good Wing-T offense; that’s what they do. And a man-to-man defense; that’s what they do.”
To put it mildly, Poplarville put it on Greene County a year ago. The Hornets routed GCHS 60-13 in the region opener, with star running back Austin Bolton breaking loose for 247 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries.
The loss hasn’t been brought up by Greene County’s staff; neither has the word “revenge.”
“I didn’t feel like we needed to (bring up the loss). I know the kids who were here were aware of that,” said King, who was George County’s offensive coordinator the last three seasons. “I never felt like using any type of revenge or payback as a motivating factor for my kids because I think that kinds of sends the wrong signals. We really do put most of the emphasis from week to week on us to get better.”
Without a bye week this year, King said the Wildcats have tried to manage practices differently this season.
“The main thing this week was to make sure that midseason lull or the grind of being six weeks in doesn’t cause us to lose our edge. We don’t have a bye week this year so we’ve been really careful how we handled these last few weeks,” he said. “We’ve tried to make a point to remind them why we’re here and why we play the game. The fun aspect of it.
“We’ve done some things in practice to make sure they’re having fun. Sometimes I think people lose light of that.”
Facing the Hornets
How does a team limit the Hornets? In their first five games of the season, Poplarville is averaging almost 34 points a game. As a whole, Poplarville is averaging 8.8 yards per carry. Bolton is among the state’s leaders with 947 yards and 13 touchdowns on 76 carries, but he’s far from the only threat for the Hornets. Roosevelt Raine (539 yards, 5 TDs), Tyson Holston (271, 2) and Cory Knight (144, 3) are also more than capable of toting the ball. Collectively, the Hornets’ 2,032 yards on the ground rank second in Mississippi behind O’Bannon (2,245) — in one less game.
“They control the ball so well,” King said. “You hope not to give up the big play but at the same time they’re perfectly content with 3-4 yards a play, which can be demoralizing to a defense.
“Sometimes the big play you can shake it and move on, but the big grind it out drives can be demoralizing.”
Looking at GCHS
Running the ball against Greene County hasn’t been easy. With the exception of Vancleave and Quitman rushing for 216 and 217 yards in successive weeks, the Wildcats have largely clamped down on opponents. GCHS has also surrendered just 55 total points through six games.
Offensively, Greene County continues to be efficient without spectacular. New quarterback Derrick Grice has completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 856 yards and six touchdowns with six interceptions. He has also rushed for 188 yards and four touchdowns, while Kyemonte Walker and Tagg Creech have combined for 453 yards and three more scores.
One complication for opponents has been who to cover in the passing attack. Greene County has completed at least two passes to seven different players, with five of them finding the end zone.
“They’re playing great defense with a really talented defensive tackle (Blake Doughdrill) and a good linebacking corps and secondary,” Beech said. “They’re very good on offense. They run a college style offense with a lot of RPO (run-pass option). If they see they have good numbers in the box they’ll run it otherwise they’ll throw it out to their receivers.
“It’s a good system. You can tell they’re going to be good for many years.”
Who: Greene County at Poplarville
When: 7 p.m. Friday