Poplarville and East Central are each one win away from creating the highly-anticipated Class 4A South State title match-up that much of South Mississippi has been expecting.
Both teams are on the road Friday night. East Central (11-0) will make the trip to Magnolia for a battle with South Pike (11-3) and Poplarville (12-0) will be at Region 7-4A rival Purvis (6-6).
If both East Central and Poplarville win, they'll meet in Poplarville for the Class 4A South State title next week.
“We're not focused on East Central, but we've told the kids that their reward for winning this game will be huge,” Poplarville coach Jay Beech said. “It's a chance to host the South State championship game. The reward for winning will be huge. This is like our state championship.”
East Central head coach Seth Smith acknowledged that there's been a buzz in Hurley about the possibility of the two unbeaten teams meeting next week.
“I'm sure it comes up out in the community, among fans,” Smith said. “We've got to take care of South Pike for that to happen.”
Poplarville thumped Purvis 69-34 on Oct. 20, but the Hornets haven't been quite as dominant in recent weeks. They beat Northeast Lauderdale 42-27 in the first round of the playoffs and pulled off a 42-31 win at St. Stanislaus a week ago.
Star senior running back Austin Bolton has been hindered by a sprained knee the last few weeks, but Beech believes Purvis will face a much more mobile Bolton on Friday night.
“He looks a lot better this week than he has in a while,” Beech said. “He ran the ball pretty well against St. Stanislaus, but there wasn't much space for him. The doctor said he'd need two weeks of rest and that's where we're at with it.”
Bolton ran 19 times for 95 yards last week. A pair of sophomores, Chase Shears and Cory Knight, provide good depth behind him.
“This is the best we've felt about our running back situation in a while,” Beech said. “We were playing with our third running back. Now, we've got our one and two back.”
Beech expects a different challenge against Purvis this time around.
“I think they've moved some people around on defense since the last time we played them,” he said. “It's going to be different defensively this time, which might give us problems. Offensively, they're pretty good. The last time we played they hit us on a couple of cheap touchdowns. Hopefully we can take that away.
“We're going to have to erase the first game and not even think about it. We'll have a new game plan and we've got to go in motivated.”
East Central is rolling
While Poplarville has seen its games tighten in recent weeks, East Central has continued to dominate the competition. East Central beat Lanier 63-13 in the first round and trounced West Lauderdale 52-6 last week.
Even though the wins have come relatively easy, Smith has seen his players keep up the intensity in practice and in games.
“Nothing is different and it's been that way since week one,” Smith said. “The kids have come out with a great attitude. I'm fairly redundant so we stick to the same plan. We're trying to be 3-0 in the playoffs.”
East Central will again be playing without senior linebacker Cade Miles, who suffered a torn ACL in the regular season finale against Vancleave. However, Smith hopes to get Miles back in the fold before the postseason comes to an end.
“There's a chance he can come back next week,” Smith said. “Obviously, he's going to have to have surgery, but he may be back next week.”
Miles, who has 94 tackles this season, has been replaced by 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior Coby Burroughs.
“He's a really consistent football player,” Smith said of Burroughs. “He's a kid that knows where to line up and where to go. He does a great job of hustling to the football.”
East Central will have to find a way to slow down South Pike quarterback Dontavious Turner. The sophomore has completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 1,410 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has run 121 times for 922 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“They're very athletic,” Smith said. “Their quarterback is a great athlete who runs well and throws the ball good. They've got a lot of good skill players.”
Friday’s 4A games:
▪ Poplarville at Purvis, 7 p.m.
▪ East Central at South Pike, 7 p.m.
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