High School Sports

Everything you need to know about the Coast’s Class 6A playoff teams

D'Iberville running back Ja'quavis Foster (3) signals for a first down after running the ball against St. Martin linebacker Nick Ross (2) during the first quarter, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at St. Martin High School in St. Martin. D’Iberville travels to Petal to open the Class 6A playoffs on Friday. St. Martin visits Pearl.
D'Iberville running back Ja'quavis Foster (3) signals for a first down after running the ball against St. Martin linebacker Nick Ross (2) during the first quarter, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at St. Martin High School in St. Martin. D’Iberville travels to Petal to open the Class 6A playoffs on Friday. St. Martin visits Pearl. Special to the Sun Herald

The Coast’s Class 6A region hasn’t had a lot of recent success in the playoffs. The four current playoff-bound schools haven’t won a postseason game since 2014, but they’re hoping to change that Friday.

Playing in the post-season won’t be anything new for top-seed Gulfport (8-3), which hosts Meridian (5-6), or D’Iberville (5-6), which travels to Petal (7-4). But Hancock (9-2) and St. Martin (6-5) are both making a bit of school history Friday, with the Hawks — who last appeared in the 2014 playoffs — playing in their first home playoff game since 1990 against Brandon (7-5). St. Martin is making its first playoff appearance since 2003 with a road trip to Pearl (12-0). All games start at 7 p.m.

Meridian at Gulfport

It appears GHS lost playmaker and backup quarterback Jalen Knight last week, but the good news for the Admirals is they’re expecting to have their QB-1, junior T.Q. Newsome, back from injury. It should be a big boost for the Admirals’ new option offense.

“Naturally he’s our quarterback and, running our option scheme, he’s a big cog,” GHS coach Eddie Pierce said of Newsome, who has passed for 570 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another 844 yards and 15 scores.

The Wildcats may be the fourth seed in 3-6A, but Pierce cautioned against putting too much stock in their record. Meridian rides a three-game winning streak into Friday night, although it is 1-5 away from home.

“Their record is no indication of how good they are,” he said. “They have a good group with some very good athletes, but I think our kids will be up for the challenge.”

Dual-threat quarterback Tevarrius Adams is the key to Meridian’s offense. The junior has passed for 2,272 yards with 21 touchdowns and rushed for another 805 yards and 10 scores. He has thrown 17 interceptions, however.

“Their quarterback is obviously what makes them tick. He’s fast with a strong arm,” Pierce said. “were going to have to keep him contained.”

Defensively, expect Gulfport’s experienced defensive front along with Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game selection Karlos Dillard to play a big role in Friday’s game.

Brandon at Hancock

If senior night two weeks ago is any indication, Kiln will be rocking Friday night as the Hawks play a rare home playoff game at Brett Favre Field.

While the Hawk faithful are buzzing with excitement, first-year coach Neil Lollar said his players have tried to keep to their regular program this week in preparation for the Bulldogs. If anything, Lollar said, his players are more anxious than nervous.

“For the most part it’s just been another week. They’re not getting ahead of themselves. They’re pretty level-headed and understand what’s at hand,” he said. “I think they have had the right frame of mind all year so this is truly just another week to prove themselves.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, HHS had to battle to earn a win over Pascagoula in its regular season finale. Lollar said his Hawks came out flat a week ago but doesn’t expect the same problems Friday. Hancock can’t afford to stumble early against a talented BHS team that has been in the playoffs every year since 2010.

“It’s going to be a good test for our guys,” Lollar said.

Sophomore quarterback Will Rogers leads the Bulldogs after having passed for 2,295 yards and 17 touchdowns against only four interceptions. Four different players have caught at least 33 passes; junior Jonathan Mingo leads the talented receivers group with 49 receptions, 734 yards and six touchdowns. Javarius Spann leads BHS with 1,016 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing.

D’Iberville at Petal

After working through an inconsistent non-region schedule DHS coach Eric Collins likes where his team is heading into the playoffs. The Warriors enter Friday’s road game having out-scored Harrison Central and St. Martin 67-28 in their final two regular season games.

“You don’t know how long you can ride that wave but I feel like we’ve been playing our best football here toward the end,” Collins said. “Like I told the kids it doesn’t matter how you play at the beginning, it’s where you end up.”

The Warriors’ rushing attack was aided last week by a change at fullback. Due to a couple of injuries, Michael Kozlowski moved over from quarterback against rival St. Martin.

“We put him in there and all he does is run for over 100 yards,” Collins said. “That’s a tribute to the kid’s tenacity, heart and spirit. That’s what being a Warrior is all about.

“I’m so proud of that kid.”

Ja’Quavis Foster leads D’Iberville’s rushing attack with 1,304 yards and 12 touchdowns on 202 carries. Jaden Walley has come on late at quarterback and enters the game having passed for 162 yards and four touchdowns along with 251 yards and five scores rushing. Go-to receiver Layton Businelle has 18 receptions for 277 yards and four scores.

In order to top Petal, DHS will have to remain on schedule offensively. That means picking up first downs, not shooting themselves in the foot with penalties and keeping their defense fresh.

Jordan Wilson leads Petal’s attack after having thrown for 2,399 yards and 21 scores. Natorian Watts and Nataurean Watts will be a handful for the Warriors’ defense to contain. The latter has rushed for 1,159 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 42 passes for 687 yards and six scores. His brother leads Petal with 47 receptions for 902 yards and nine touchdowns.

“It’s going to be a handful. They’re in the playoffs every year so they have a lot of experience,” Collins said. “It’s going to come down to us doing our thing.”

St. Martin at Pearl

St. Martin’s reward for qualifying for its first playoff berth since 2003 is a trip to Pearl, a team many consider to be in the conversation as Mississippi’s best in 2017.

Coach Eddie Wayne Whitehead understands what his team is up against, but said that doesn’t change the mindset of his Yellow Jackets.

“Would it be an upset? Absolutely. But I want to go and play our game,” he said. “As long as we leave everything we have on the field I'll be proud of our guys.

“We just have to play together as a team.”

St. Martin hasn’t thrown the ball much this year, but they haven’t really needed to with four players successfully rushing the ball. Ham McGee leads the Yellow Jackets with 1,354 yards and 13 touchdowns. Landon Pankonin and Mileon Graham have rushed for 559 and 445 yards respectively, while Elijah Washington isn’t far behind with 408 yards. The latter three players have combined for 12 rushing touchdowns.

If the Yellow Jackets can sustain drives, Whitehead said, they’ll give themselves a chance. In scouting the Pirates, Whitehead said teams have been able to move the ball but have gotten into trouble with turnovers against a voracious defense.

Pearl senior quarterback Jake Smithhart has passed for 1,885 yards and 24 touchdowns, while Johnny Winston has rushed for a team-high 815 yards and nine touchdowns.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Region 4-6A playoff games

Meridian at Gulfport

Brandon at Hancock

D’Iberville at Petal

St. Martin at Pearl

All games start at 7 p.m.

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