If last season’s contest in Picayune is any indication, Friday’s most exciting high school football game in Mississippi will take place at Picayune’s Lee-Triplett Stadium.
Picayune (7-1, 4-0) plays host to Hattiesburg (8-0, 4-0) at 7 p.m. in a game that will essentially decide the top seed in Region 4-5A.
Picayune won last year’s game 56-48 and Tigers head coach Tony Vance expects a similar high-scoring affair Friday night.
“I think it’s going to be another barn burner,” he said Tuesday. “It’s going to come down to who gets stops and who can make the other team punt.”
Last year’s game came down to the final moments with Picayune getting the final stop on defense.
“It’s really the same (Hattiesburg) team we faced last year,” Picayune coach Dodd Lee said. “We’re not that much different ourselves. We stopped them twice and they stopped us once. That was the game. We stopped them as time ran out.”
Hattiesburg is as talented as any team on offense in Class 5A with junior quarterback Jarod Conner serving as a dangerous two-way threat. He has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 1,402 and 14 touchdowns while running for 726 yards and 17 scores.
“He’s a good one,” Lee said. “He might be a better runner than (former HHS QB Julian Conner) was. They’re solid. They have the best receiver and the best running back we’ve faced.”
Mississippi State commit Fabian Franklin, a senior running back, has 69 carries for 435 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior receiver Darius Ruffin leads Hattiesburg with 36 catches for 571 yards and three scores.
Hattiesburg has scored at least 56 points in each of the last four games and is averaging 49 points a game.
Picayune is no slouch on offense either, averaging 36.8 points a game thanks to its usual potent rushing attack. Senior running back Shaun Anderson has run 170 times for 1,531 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He has carried the load for much of the season, including a 19-carry, 404-yard, 5-touchdown performance against Stone High on Oct. 6.
However, Anderson won’t be pressured to carry the ball as much thanks to the return of senior David Baker from injury. Baker ran 12 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the 47-26 win at Long Beach last week.
“We held (Anderson’s) carries back early in the year,” Lee said. “Now that we’ve got our other running back he can play more defensive back. I’m not going to say he’s our best DB, but he’s as good as we’ve got.”
Lee said that he would like to keep Anderson’s carries under 25 per game.
Vance knows his defense will have its hands full against the Maroon Tide ground game.
“I think what makes it difficult is the number of guys they put at the point of attack,” Vance said. “There aren’t many teams that use the quarterback as a lead blocker, I know that. It’s always a physical week when you play Picayune.”
Lee was critical of his defense after the 42-35 win at Stone High and he expects more consistent play against the Tigers.
“We do well at times and we blow assignments at times,” he said. “We play like we don’t have a whole lot of faith in each other.
“We play our best when we have everybody healthy. We have a few walking wounded that may be able to run by Friday.”
Who: Hattiesburg vs. Picayune
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Radio: WRJW 1320-AM
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