High School Sports

Playoffs are on the line in St. Martin-D’Iberville rivalry game

It didn’t take Eric Collins long to learn about the D’Iberville-St. Martin rivalry.

When he was hired by the Warriors prior to last season, he was given a heads up, but apparently it wasn’t quite adequate enough.

“They told me but you can’t really go by what people say until you’re in it and feel it,” Collins said during Tuesday’s practice.

The Warriors ended up claiming a 14-point win to clinch the school’s first region title since 2013, but not before tempers flared up and the contest was cut short by six seconds.

“One of the things that has always accentuated these rivalries is the passion. The games just seem to mean a little bit more. They’re more interesting. People take note a little bit more. That’s the difference,” Collins said. “Football is football and you’re still going to have to go out and execute and the team that can handle that and not let the passion get them and cause them to not execute is the team that’s going to win.”

Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup at St. Martin’s Joe Barlow Stadium could have a similarly tense atmosphere as both teams need to win to secure a post-season berth after largely inconsistent seasons.

The Yellow Jackets (6-4, 3-3) can get in with a win or a Biloxi loss combined with a Harrison Central loss. D’Iberville (4-6, 3-3) must win to get in.

Elsewhere in Region 4-6A: Gulfport (7-3, 6-0) visits rival Biloxi (3-7, 3-3), Ocean Springs (3-7, 1-5) travels to Harrison Central (3-7, 2-4) and Hancock (8-2, 5-1) heads to Pascagoula (3-7, 1-5); all with 7 p.m. starts. Gulfport and Hancock have secured the top two spots in 4-6A. HCHS, Pascagoula and Ocean Springs are all eliminated from the playoffs. Biloxi can get into the playoffs with a win or DHS loss.

“It seems like it always comes down to the end of the season,” St. Martin coach Eddie Wayne Whitehead said. “We let it always come down to the last game.”

The Warriors have owned the series and have won 13 straight. Neither coach said “the streak” is something that comes up during practice. The players don’t have to be reminded while they’re on the practice field.

“Everybody around here knows it. We try not to make a big deal about it,” Collins said. “What happened in 2003 all the way until last year doesn’t mean a thing. The only thing that means something is this year, so we’re trying to make sure we’re as prepared as we possibly can.”

Playing well

Both teams enter Friday’s game coming off of impressive wins. The Yellow Jackets have been playing well for a while now after moving Landon Pankonin to quarterback four weeks ago. Since the change, they’re 3-1 with three straight wins.

While his passing numbers aren’t great (7 of 18 for 60 yards with three interceptions), he has broken free for 530 yards and four scores on 51 carries.

“He's a good leader but he's also pretty quick and can run the read option,” Whitehead said. “He gives us a different dimension.”

He has plenty of help out of the St. Martin backfield with Ham McGee (1,251 yards, 11 touchdowns), Mileon Graham (436, 5) and Elijah Washington (379, 3) all providing game-breaking ability.

Collins, meanwhile, called D’Iberville’s 36-12 win over Harrison Central last week his team’s most complete effort to date.

“There was something different in the air Friday for us. Our confidence has been down. We’ve had a lot of injuries and guys hurt, or in trouble,” Collins said. “One thing that has been a constant is our guys have never quit on each other. They have never given up on each other. Some kind of way last Friday we played with a lot of heart and emotion and played hard. That’s a credit to these kids.”

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Game plan

Who: D’Iberville at St. Martin

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Online: For LIVE updates from all of South Mississippi’s scores throughout the night, visit SunHerald.com.