All the Pine Belt teams still alive in the high school football playoffs are playing for one thing today: a South State Championship.
As sweet as the South State Championship and the chance to play for a State title are, some of these teams have another powerful motivating factor. Revenge.
Of the five area teams hitting the gridiron tonight, four of them are in rematches.
Petal, which started the season 3-4, faces Meridian. In the first game between the two in October, the Panthers beat the Wildcats, 28-27, in double-overtime. However, Petal coach Marcus Boyles believes the previous contest won’t factor into how things play out this time around.
“You know, obviously they will be motivated,” Boyles said. “But it won’t affect who will win. I think it lets our guys know we can beat them and hang with them, but it won’t help either team win.”
The win over the Wildcats marked the start of a six-game win streak for Petal, which included an upset victory over Brandon last week that avenged a loss to the Bulldogs earlier this season.
In Class 3A, West Marion and Collins will square off for the third time in two years. Earlier this season, the Tigers defeated the Trojans 38-34. Heightening the suspense, it’s also the second year in a row the Trojans and Tigers will meet in the South State Championship. Last season, Collins won that game 50-28, and went on to win the State Class 3A crown.
“Me and coach (Brad) Duncan told each other after the first game this year that we would likely see each other again,” Collins coach Ryan Earnest said. “We’re thankful to be in the same spot we were last year, facing them again. We’re not surprised to see them again.”
While Collins has won the last two meetings, the Trojans are looking to add their own State title and spoil the Tigers’ repeat bid. Having made it to the South State finals three of the last four years, Duncan said it’s his Trojans’ turn.
“We’ve lost to the eventual state champion the last three out of four years,” Duncan said. “We have to get over that hump, but we haven’t been able to yet. It’s weighed heavily on our coaches, our players and our community. … Everyone is craving a championship.”
In Class 1A, Lumberton has surprised some by reaching the South State Championship after starting the season 0-4. The team’s only loss since its winless start is a 25-8 setback against Resurrection, which hosts the Panthers at 7 p.m. today.
“Going 0-4, no one gave us a chance,” Panther coach Zach Jones said. “But I’m proud of our kids, and it helps that they know now that hard work pays off. No one gave us a chance, but our community and fans stuck with us and we believed in ourselves and believed we would get to this point. But this is Lumberton, this is what happens here, to compete deep in the playoffs.”
In Class 2A — the only non-rematch, Bassfield travels to Bay Springs where coach Lance Mancuso said it will be the toughest 2A team his group has faced this year with a big physical, downhill attack.
In recent years, Bassfield has owned the competition, having won three consecutive State titles. But the Yellowjackets have relatively flown under the radar this season.
Mancuso said it is simply part of feeding the beast of expectation he has brought to the Yellowjacket program, where losing isn’t an option.
“I think there’s some truth to that for sure,” he said. “But our kids expect it to be that way. We expect to be here because of the hard work they put in. They take pride in being the class of 2A, and it’s their No. 1 goal, year after year. Every offseason, they don’t take anything for granted.”
South State Championships
Class 6A: Meridian at Petal
Class 5A: Wayne County at Laurel
Class 4A: St. Stanislaus at Lawrence County
Class 3A: West Marion at Collins
Class 2A: Bassfield at Bay Springs
Class 1A: Lumberton at Resurrection
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. today for all games