From 2013-14, Pearl River Central football was situated in arguably the toughest district in the state in Region 3-5A.
PRC coach Eric Collins' squad had to battle the likes of Laurel, Wayne County and West Jones to earn a spot in the postseason. Many thought PRC's path to the playoffs would be much easier with the switch this year to 4-5A, but Collins isn't buying that logic.
"I think this group is as tough as any district and we've experienced both of them," Collins said. "They always say the Coast league is not as tough as (3-5A), but I can tell you that's not the case this year.
"Wayne County, defending state champs Laurel, West Jones and Brookhaven are all playing a high level. Now, Hattiesburg, Pascagoula, Gautier and Picayune are all playing at a high level. It's about the same. There are tough teams in this district as well the district up north. The difference is we don't have to travel 18 hours to games."
PRC (7-1, 4-0) will host Pascagoula (6-2, 4-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday in a game that will play a big role in determining who wins the 4-5A title this season.
PRC, Pascagoula and Picayune (5-3, 4-0) are tied atop the region with Hattiesburg (6-3, 2-2) and Gautier (4-4, 2-2) still in the postseason hunt.
PRC's talented offensive backfield has put up impressive numbers. Senior Christian Roberts has 140 carries for 816 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior Michael Tatman has 106 rushes for 739 yards and seven scores. Senior Hunter Holifield has reached the end zone six times and has 85 carries for 728 yards.
"You can't focus on one guy," Pascagoula coach Lewis Sims said of PRC. "A lot of times, you compare the Wing-T to option football. Everybody has to do their job. Everybody has to know their responsibility. You have to execute. One missed assignment can be huge."
PRC also has a steady hand at quarterback in junior Wyatt Davis, who is 27-of-44 on passes for 552 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
The challenge for PRC is to slow down one of the Coast's most talented running backs in Pascagoula junior Reginald Hunter, who has 168 carries for 1,068 yards and 11
touchdowns this season.
On the first play of the game last week in a 21-18 win over Hattiesburg, Hunter, who has an offer from Louisville, ran 58 yards up the sideline for a touchdown.
Sims said Tuesday that Hunter is also drawing interest from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss.
"We have to tackle well," Collins said. "We've got to get our hands on him to bring him down. We also don't need to let him get started. He's extremely fast and talented. He's as good a back as anybody we've played."
One PRC player who will be looking to slow down Hunter is senior linebacker David Salser, who stands 6-feet, 200 pounds, and has a team-high 104 tackles.
The last time PRC and Pascagoula played was the 2012 Class 5A South State championship game in Carriere. Pascagoula won 17-10 that night in a hostile road environment.
Sims expects another difficult road trip Friday night.
"I don't know what's tougher -- Hattiesburg, PRC or Picayune. All three are tough places to play," Sims said. "They have great fans. It's a longer ride than we're used to taking. We'll get out of our comfort zone. We're treating it like a playoff game. As big as our game was last week, this game is even bigger."
Whoever wins Friday night is on pace for a high seed in the playoffs.
"I think right now we're playing our best football and it should be that way," Collins said. "Pascagoula can say the same thing. We're going into the last three games with something to play for. Not every team can say that now."