Poplarville has handled the competition on the Class 4A level with relative ease this season, only suffering a 28-20 loss to Class 5A powerhouse Picayune in the season opener.
On Saturday, the Hornets face their stiffest test yet.
Louisville (14-1) will be the most talented team that Poplarville has faced this year and it just so happens that it will likely be the final game of Louisville coach M.C. Miller’s 45-year career.
Before Miller retires, he plans to earn his third state title trophy as a head coach.
Poplarville (13-1) and Louisville will battle for the Class 4A state title at 11 a.m. on Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.
Poplarville coach Jay Beech understands the difficult task ahead for his team on Saturday.
“They’re just extremely talented and that’s what you would expect from Louisville,” Beech said. “They have a tradition of winning state championships. I think they’ve got three SEC commits on defense.”
The Wildcats actually feature two players who have committed to SEC programs:
▪ Senior defensive lineman Charles Moore, who stands 6-foot-4, 268 pounds, is a Mississippi State commit. He has 77 tackles to lead the Wildcats up front.
▪ Senior Ashanti Cistruck is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound linebacker/safety who has pledged to Ole Miss. He has 94 tackles and five sacks.
The other defensive player that Beech thinks is SEC caliber is junior linebacker/defensive end Jy’kevious Hibbler. He has 55 tackles, including a whopping 15 sacks.
The Louisville defense has six shutouts this season and has four other games where it has allowed just 3 or 7 points.
Louisville’s lone loss was a 26-10 game at West Point, which is playing West Jones for a Class 5A state title in the late game on Saturday.
Along with being the most talented, Louisville is the biggest team that Poplarville has faced this season.
“They’ve got five or six guys that stand on the sideline that are bigger than anything we’ve played all year,” Beech said.
On offense, Louisville will even have a size advantage at quarterback. Senior Deonte Yarbrough, who is listed at 6-3, 240, has completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 804 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Five-foot-11, 205-pound running back Kevon Jackson has run 160 times for 1,235 yards and 20 touchdowns to lead the Wildcats’ ground game. At receiver, senior Alvius Hayes has 39 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns.
After stacking the box on defense last week in a 33-17 win over East Central, the Hornets will have to adjust to a more balanced scheme from the Wildcats.
“They’ll spread everybody out,” Poplarville senior defensive end Mario Barnes said. “With the way we play defense, it doesn’t matter what kind of offense we’ll play. We’ll play hard and fly around like a bunch of maniacs.”
Poplarville has beaten bigger and more talented teams in the past, but Beech knows his squad will have to be at its best on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
“You can’t give them anything cheap and you can’t let their defense score,” Beech said. “That’s huge. It seems everybody they play, they get a defensive touchdown. They force a lot of turnovers. If we can play our style of game and don’t let the defense put us in bad situations, we have a pretty good chance.”
My pick: Louisville 28, Poplarville 24.
Other picks: Seminary 31, Water Valley 28; Horn Lake 28, Oak Grove 17; Simmons 35, Nanih Waiya 13; Taylorsville 31, Scott Central 28; West Point 28, West Jones 20.
State title games schedule
Location: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg
TV: WLOX-Bounce (13.3) on the Coast
11 a.m. — Seminary vs. Water Valley (3A)
3 p.m. — Nanih Waiya vs. Simmons (1A)
7 p.m. — Oak Grove vs. Horn Lake (6A)
11 a.m. — Poplarville vs. Louisville (4A)
3 p.m. — Taylorsville vs. Scott Central (2A)
7 p.m. — West Jones vs. West Point (5A)