Tony Vance hasn’t been in Hattiesburg very long, but he’s been here long enough to know his first game as coach of the Hattiesburg High Tigers isn’t just any game.
The Tigers open the 2013 high school football season with a Saturday Night Special against their rivals from across the Leaf River, the Petal Panthers.
“It’s a big rivalry on Saturday night,” said Vance, who came to HHS after five successful seasons at Charleston. “It’s probably the only game around in the area, and it should be a great atmosphere for football.”
Indeed, Panther Stadium should be rocking, as a capacity crowd in the neighborhood of 10,000 is expected for the hotly-contested Pine Belt rivalry.
“This is what you play high school football for, to fill the stadium up in front of a loud crowd,” said Petal coach Marcus Boyles.
In years past, the rivalry has been played later in the season, but this year the two schools are in different regions, thanks to the most recent reclassification.
Hattiesburg is looking to turn its fortunes around against the Panthers, who have won the past five meetings in the rivalry. However, Boyles downplays Petal’s recent dominance in the series.
“The last three or four times they’ve played, they’ve been real wars,” said Boyles. “We don’t expect anything less this time. We know they’re going to bring their A-game, and we have to match their intensity and enthusiasm.”
While the Panthers played a jamboree last week, defeating Pearl 12-0 in a two-quarter, game-style scrimmage, Hattiesburg will be seeing its first live action on Saturday.
“We’re not ready right now,” said Vance. “But we don’t have any choice; we’ve got to be ready to play on Saturday.”
Although Vance’s coaching experience has been in the northern half of the state, he is very familiar with Boyles and with Petal.
“When you play a Marcus Boyles-coached team, you know what to expect,” said Vance. “They’re going to be very multiple and they’re not going to make many mistakes. You just have to try to make sure you don’t help them in any way.”
Petal will be led by its running tandem of seniors Tyus Raine and James Milledge, who piled up 108 yards on 17 carries in last week’s scrimmage. And they will be running behind one of the top lines in the state, led by junior tackle Jovan Patterson.
Hattiesburg is still a work in progress, but the Tigers are expected to lean heavily on junior quarterback Tristen Walley on offense and senior linebacker Aikeem Coleman on defense.
“A lot of speed and a lot of different formations,” said Boyles of Hattiesburg. “They’re going to be a well-coached, well-oiled machine that will hit you in the mouth.”