High School Sports

Pascagoula preps to host 'explosive' Hattiesburg Friday

 Hattiesburg receiver Jordan Murphy, right, is a top target in the Tigers' passing game.
AMANDA MCCOY/SUN HERALD Hattiesburg receiver Jordan Murphy, right, is a top target in the Tigers' passing game.

Pascagoula cruised to three straight wins to start Region 4-5A play, but the real test comes on Friday at War Memorial Stadium.

The Panthers (5-2, 3-0) host Hattiesburg (6-2, 2-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday in a crucial region contest for both squads.

Hattiesburg is ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 5A and No. 9 overall by The Associated Press.

Pascagoula sits at No. 4 in the Sun Herald Top 10, overcoming several key injuries early in the season.

Pascagoula has had to learn how to win without the Walker brothers, running back Javarous and gifted utility man Jakwaize. Javarous is done for the season with a knee injury. Pascagoula coach Lewis Sims leaves open the possibility that Jakwaize could play again this season after suffering a lower leg injury on Sept. 11 at George County.

"We'll find out later on how he responds and what he can tolerate," Sims said Tuesday. "It's more about him than anything else. We're just making sure he's 100 percent healthy. We're not rushing him back."

Hattiesburg and Pascagoula haven't played since 2000 and the Tigers have won the last seven times the two teams have played.

Hattiesburg won 27-0 in the last meeting in 2000 and Pascagoula last beat Hattiesburg in 1994 when a Bill Matthews-coached team won, 28-21.

Sims said Tuesday that he knew Region 4-5A would get a lot tougher when Hattiesburg dropped down from Class 6A.

Hattiesburg picked up impressive wins early in the season, beating 5A defending state champion Laurel, Petal and Collins.

Oak Grove handed Hattiesburg its first loss, 38-22, on Sept. 18 and Picayune pulled off the upset with a 28-27 win at Hattiesburg last week.

While Hattiesburg doesn't look quite as dominant as it did early in the season, Sims expects to face a talented squad Friday night.

"They're a heck of a ball club," Sims said. "(Coach) Tony Vance has done a tremendous job of molding those guys into a disciplined, hard-hitting, explosive football team. That all comes from the great job that coach Vance has done."

Hattiesburg returns plenty of talent from a team that made the playoffs last season in 4-6A.

Starting quarterback Julian Conner returned from injury last week and struggled in the loss to Picayune, completing 6-of-19 passes for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Conner has thrown for 1,024 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions this season.

Sophomore running back Fabian Franklin leads HHS with 89 carries for 664 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Junior Jordan Murphy is Hattiesburg's top receiver with 31 catches for 516 yards and seven touchdowns.

"Their line is probably the biggest line we've seen all year," Sims said. "They're huge across the front. They're able to get their hands on you. It's hard to get pressure. When you do get pressure, the quarterback is able to elude the rush. Defensively, it's a nightmare."

Picayune ran for 360 yards against Hattiesburg last week and Pascagoula can rely on junior Reginald Hunter to lead its ground attack. Hunter sat out last week, but Sims said that he expects him to play Friday night. He has 142 carries for 905 yards and 10 touchdowns.

With junior Granlund Torjusen at quarterback, Sims likes where his offense is headed.

"They're getting better," Sims said. "If everybody does their job on every play, we can play with anybody. When we don't maintain our blocks or carry out assignments, we're not very good. When we do those things, we're really good."