Of all the rivalry contests taking place over the next couple of weeks on the Coast, few will have the intensity that we’ll see Friday night in Hurley.
East Central (8-0, 4-0) has already locked up the Region 8-4A title and Vancleave (5-4, 2-2) has secured a spot in the playoffs, but that won’t take away from the heated atmosphere.
The Hornets have thumped Vancleave the last two seasons, 62-7 in 2017 and 60-27 in 2016, since moving down to Class 4A. This will be the last region game between the two teams for at least the next two seasons with East Central moving up to Class 5A next year.
East Central has been getting teams’ best effort all season and they’ve managed to stay undefeated thanks to a dominant defense.
Vancleave senior running back C.J. Johnson and the rest of the Bulldogs’ offense should present one of the better challenges for East Central this season. He has 1,141 yards and six touchdowns this season, averaging 8.1 yards a carry.
East Central hasn’t been putting up huge numbers on offense this season, but senior running back Cameron Gray is getting healthier by the week after suffering a broken tibia early in the season. If he can provide the big play punch that East Central needs, the Hornets will be that much more of a threat to take a second consecutive Class 4A South State title. East Central is averaging 6.7 yards a carry as a team after putting up a clip of 9.1 a year ago.
My pick: East Central 28, Vancleave 14.
Here’s how I see the rest of Friday’s games playing out:
Biloxi 24, Hancock 20: The Indians (4-5, 2-3) have some work to do to get into the playoffs, but it’s not impossible. Hancock (2-7, 0-5) is hoping to end a seven-game losing streak.
Harrison Central 38, D’berville 31: I foresee a barn burner in Lyman. D’Iberville senior Marquis Whitley has been one of the more versatile running backs on the Coast this season, running 121 times for 725 yards and seven touchdowns. As a receiver, he has 21 catches for 445 yards and five scores.
Gulfport 31, Ocean Springs 20: It’s hard to see Gulfport (8-1, 5-0) slowing down with the way they’ve played on defense the last couple of weeks. GHS senior quarterback T.Q. Newsome has been impressive throwing the ball all season and the Admirals feature one of the best receiving corps on the Coast. Junior Deshun Shields has 30 catches for 481 yards and six touchdowns. Tommie Johnson, anothe rjunior, has 27 catches for 442 yards and five scores.
Petal 24, George County 14: The Rebels (3-7, 2-3) can stay in the postseason hunt with a win over Petal, which is 3-6 and 2-3.
St. Martin 31, Pascagoula 24: St. Martin has to find a way to limit mistakes in crucial situations. The Yellow Jackets were in charge for nearly entire first half before falling 28-19 to rival Ocean Springs. Pascagoula (1-8, 0-5) has been oh so close to breaking a five-game losing streak.
Picayune 35, Gautier 27: Picayune (6-3, 4-1) gave Class 5A No. 1 Hattiesburg everything it could handle a week ago in a 49-35 loss. Picayune senior running back Jortin Raine leads South Mississippi in rushing with 213 carries for 1,761 yards and seven touchdowns. With a long list of playmakers, Gautier (6-3, 3-2) can’t be counted out on the road.
Hattiesburg 49, Long Beach 20: There is no room for error when you take on Hattiesburg (9-0, 5-0).
Stone High 35, Pearl River Central 30: With impressive wins over Gautier and Wayne County, no team has improved more over the course of the season than Stone High (3-5, 3-2). The return of senior quarterback Trey Arrington has been a big boost for the Tomcats in region play. If Stone wins Friday, it’s guaranteed a playoff spot.
Wayne County 31, West Harrison 20: The Hurricanes came very close to picking up their first region victory since 2013 last week in a 36-33 loss to Long Beach. There’s no denying West Harrison (2-7, 0-5) is much improved in Quincy Patrick’s first year on the job.
Moss Point 21, Bay High 13: A series of tie-breakers will come into play for a playoff bid if Bay High (1-8, 1-3) finds a way to take down Moss Point (3-7, 2-2).
St. Stanislaus 31, Pass Christian 10: Junior running back Brandon Bordelon gave SSC (4-5, 3-1) a lift in the ground game last week at Moss Point with 18 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Collins 35, St. Patrick 10: Former Southern Miss star running back/kick returner Eric Booth is the head coach at Collins and he has the Tigers at 8-1 overall and 3-0 in Region 8-2A. St. Patrick (3-6, 0-3) has managed to score just 35 points in region play.
Poplarville 38, Lawrence County 17: Poplarville (8-1, 4-0) can clinch its third consecutive Region 7-4A championship at home Friday night. The Hornets have won 15 consecutive region contests.
Sun Herald Top 5
1. East Central (8-0, 4-0)
2. Gulfport (8-1, 5-0)
3. Picayune (6-3, 4-1)
4. Poplarville (8-1, 4-0)
5. Harrison Central (7-2, 4-1)