Three area teams will compete Friday and Saturday for the ultimate glory in Mississippi high school football: a state championship and the ever elusive gold ball. Collins and Bassfield are both chasing repeats — Collins, a back-to-back 3A State Championship — and Bassfield, the chance at a fourth consecutive 2A State Championship — something that has never been done before.
Petal will square off against Starkville, in hopes of snatching its first state championship.
6A State Championship: Petal vs. Starkville
Petal is riding high after its first South State Championship victory since 2011, claiming it over Meridian, 36-28. Now the Panthers will face Starkville for the Class 6A State Championship on Friday in Oxford.
Petal will have to take on not only the Yellowjackets but famous head coach Ricky Woods as well. Petal coach Marcus Boyles said his team is taking on its underdog role however.
“You know we are embracing the underdog role,” Boyles said. “Starkville was in North State last year and lost. But they got a lot of those guys back this year and they were expected to be right here in the thick of things. And we weren’t, so we are taking that to heart and it’s really motivating our guys.”
On defense, Petal will have to slow down a pair of Browns the deadly Starkville offense has to offer. A.J Brown, the Mississippi State commit, has torched teams this season through the air for 1,200 yards and a dozen touchdowns. But running back Avery Brown has stood out the most to Petal senior linebacker Logan Boutwell.
“We see him on film and he hits the holes so fast,” Boutwell said. “He’s so quick getting north and south. We are going to have to get in the running lanes even faster than before. Because if he gets a crease, he’s gone.”
Woods and the Yellowjackets have leaned on Avery Brown throughout the playoffs after teams double-covered A.J. Brown, and the results have been tremendous. Brown has 1,560 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns, 650 yards and seven of those touchdowns coming in the playoffs.
As for the Petal offense, according to Boyles, the Yellowjacket defense is extremely athletic and physical up front. “I think they have one of the better front sevens we will have faced all year,” Boyles said. “They’re big, fast and their best linebacker isn’t as big as the rest, but boy, he is one heck of a football player.”
“They are really fast on defense,” Estill said. “When we watched film, they are pretty good, but we’re pretty good on offense, too, and we have a good offensive line. They might be good on defense, but we saw a few things that we think we can take advantage of.”
3A State Championship: Collins vs. Charleston
With its 40-36 win over West Marion, Collins keeps its dreams alive of back-to-back 3A State Championships. However, the Tigers will once again have a rematch on their hands as they face a familiar foe in the 3A State Championship game. In fact, it will be the very same opponent they defeated for the gold ball in 2014: Charleston.
Collins defeated Charleston in overtime, 28-20, in 2014, but coach Ryan Earnest thinks his team is over hearing about rematches against teams they have already beaten.
“We’ve had a lot of rematches this year and I think this one will be no different,” Earnest said. “I think this will be two teams going at it for a state championship, not a team that wants revenge on us from last year. We have some of the same players back and they have some of their players back, but, for the most part, we are two very different teams than we both were a year ago.”
Star quarterback Detric Hawthorn agreed with his head coach and said “It’ll feel just the same as playing any other team we have already played this year,” Hawthorn said. “We aren’t coming to Oxford to play around. We are on a mission and so are they. We’re going to have to give 100 percent and handle business if we are going to bring the gold ball back to Collins.”
While both teams have identical records at 13-2, Collins will see its polar opposite on Saturday, as Charleston likes to pound the ball on the ground and keep the other team’s offense off the field.
“They are very much a grind it out, ball control-type offense,” Earnest said. “Their offensive style is the opposite of ours. We spread it out and sling it around. But we can run it well, too. Our defensive has played well down the stretch and they will need to again to get our offense on the field.”
Charleston’s powerful rushing attack has allowed its defense to settle in and have them ranked as the third in total defense in 3A. But standout wide receiver Calvin Keys thinks the game will come down to who plays the hardest.
“Charleston is a good team. And I’m sure they have studied our films to try and correct some of their mistakes from last year,” Keys said. “And they have gotten better in certain areas and I expect them to play hard, but I do believe our guys will play harder.”
2A State Championship: Bassfield vs East Webster
Not many seniors in Mississippi high school football teams have the opportunity to walk away from their high school career with four state championship rings on their fingers. But that is exactly the opportunity the Bassfield Yellowjackets have as they face one last test against East Webster at 3 p.m. Friday in Oxford.
“It would mean so much to us,” senior quarterback Timothy Arnold said. “I told everyone this year that we would re-write the history books and make history this year. Every day in class I would tell everyone we would do it and now we have a chance to do just that.”
Bassfield’s toughest test comes in the form of East Webster, which might be an exact clone of the Yellowjackets in terms of speed and how they run the ball.
“They’re real physical up front,” Bassfield coach Lance Mancuso said. “They want to run it just like we want to run it. And the thing about their defense is that they are fast — it’s hard to get the edge on them. Tim (Arnold) is going to have to make some plays with his arm and not just his feet in order for us to win this one.”
Arnold said Mancuso has been challenging them in practice and telling the whole team how difficult the game will be on Friday.
“He’s been telling us all week how it won’t be as easy as those other three state championship games,” Arnold said. “He said it will not be easy and won’t be a walkthrough. We are going to have to out there and take it if we want to win it.”
The Wolverines have been on a tear just like Bassfield after its lone loss to Calhoun City back in October, 28-7. Since then, not only has East Webster won, but they have dominated, with its closest margin of victory being the North State Championship Game last week when they defeated Baldwyn, 28-14.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Mancuso said. “But I think our guys are capable. They want it bad and they want to leave their own legacy and that’s what I told them. Those other three teams did their own thing and left their own legacy. It’s your guys’ turn, leave your own mark at Bassfield.”