All eyes in the Pine Belt will be on D.I. Patrick Stadium Saturday night when Hattiesburg High welcomes Petal for the 2014 season opener.
The clash of local archrivals is the only game going that night, so a big crowd is expected.
“It’s a big rivalry,” said Petal coach Marcus Boyles. “It’s the first game of the year. You don’t want to start out 0-1. We’ve just got to have a great week of practice and be ready to play.”
Petal is coming off another successful season, finishing 10-3 last year in Boyles’ second season at the helm. The Panthers advanced to the Class 6A South State semifinals, losing to eventual state champion Oak Grove.
“Petal is Petal,” said Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance. “They’re going to do what they always do, and do it well. Obviously, they’re going to be well-coached. They’ve got some big guys up front, and they’re going to lean on those guys.”
Vance is entering his second season as the coach of the Tigers. HHS was 4-8 overall last season, but were 4-3 in Region 4-6A and made the playoffs as the third-seeded team. They also lost to Oak Grove in the playoffs, falling in the opening round.
The Tigers were winners in their jamboree last Friday, defeating Northwest Rankin 18-14 at home, while Petal lost 14-0 at Wayne County.
“It’s never as good as you think, or as bad as you think once you watch the film,” said Vance. “Overall, though, we were pretty pleased with the way we played. We’ve got to work on a lot of things to get ready for Petal.”
Boyles wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort Friday night at Waynesboro, but he credited the War Eagles with a lot of the Panthers’ problems in the scrimmage.
“We played a really good football team,” Boyles said. “I didn’t think we played extremely well. Some of that has to do with the opponent, but we’ve certainly got a lot of work to do and we’ve got to get better in a short amount of time.”
Although Hattiesburg is young at some key positions, Boyles said he sees a lot of familiar faces when he watches film of the Tigers.
“They’ve got a lot of starters back from last year, so I don’t know how young they are,” Boyles said. “You look out there and you see a lot of kids who played a lot of games last year. They’ve got a lot of experience on both sides of the ball.”
Vance said that ready or not, the season is here and the pace has been brisk at practice in the past few days.
“The team that plays the hardest and makes the least amount of mistakes is the one that will win,” said Vance. “We’ve got to be ready. Today is Tuesday; we’re not ready yet, but we will be come Saturday.”
Petal at Hattiesburg
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday
• Where: D.I. Patrick Stadium
• Records (2013): Petal 10-3; Hattiesburg 4-8
• Tickets: $7 at the gate