When the MHSAA released its latest reclassification last December, Simmons coach and athletic director Tavares Johnson was not happy as his Blue Devils dropped to Class 1A.
Whether it was having an extra week added to the regular season, not being able to play some of their rivals or getting payback against East Webster — the team that put Simmons out of the playoffs last year — Johnson has changed his tune.
Especially since the Blue Devils will play the Resurrection Eagles for the Class 1A championship at 11 a.m. Friday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford.
“Of course, we get to play for the state championship; we’re ecstatic,” Johnson said. “Since we couldn’t play in the 2A division and get another shot at East Webster, we’re going to finish the mission. We’re just happy to be where we are.”
Simmons (11-0) and Resurrection (13-0) are the only unbeaten teams remaining in the state. They also boast the top scoring defenses statewide and are the only teams allowing less than 10 points per game.
The Blue Devils and Eagles have posted seven and eight shutouts, respectively, and both teams have allowed five touchdowns all season.
The Eagles also have wins over two 3A opponents, a 4A opponent and Jay (Fla.), a 1A school that would be the size of a 4A school in Mississippi.
Resurrection continues to build on the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the best in school history.
Eagles coach Scott Sisson said the Blue Devils will provide their biggest challenge of the season, and Tre’Veon “Nero” Nelson will be the best player they will have faced.
“I was looking at film and kept asking my wife at home and the coaches in the office, ‘How do I slow this fast forward down,’” Sisson said. “They let me know I’m not real technology savvy. They said (the film) was regular speed. They are very fast, and we’ve got our hands full.”
Simmons’ duo of Nelson, a Mississippi State commit, and sophomore Marquez Pam has combined for 60 touchdowns this season. Nelson has tallied 1,679 all-purpose yards, while Pam has 1,064, most coming on the ground.
“He’s very elusive, and it seems like he can make you miss in traffic, too. He can duck under you, slice you or shake and bake,” Sisson said.
The Eagles counter with a four-back system led by junior Patrick Watts (1,167 yards rushing, 12 total TDs) and senior Dillan Jolly (962 rushing, 14 TDs).
Simmons lineman Rodrick Jarett (12 sacks) and linebacker Mykhal Maybell (89 tackles) head the Blue Devil defense. The Eagles have a plus-18 turnover margin to go with 47 sacks, including 20 from defensive lineman Renzell Johnson.
Sisson knew team defense would be the Eagles’ strength this season with eight starters back. It has helped make up for the seven sophomores and one freshman starting on offense.
He also knows it will take one more stellar performance for the Eagles to win their first state championship.
“The defense has kept us in games, and the offense has gotten better each week,” Sisson said. “Those (nine) that are seniors … they had to play as seventh- and eighth-graders. They took some serious beatings. They stuck with it. It’s been a slow-building process, but it’s been fun to watch them grow and build what they built.”
Added Johnson: “A championship is huge. It’ll be the first one to go down in history No.1; and No. 2, it will be something these guys can remember the rest of their lives. It would be big for the community of Hollandale and with all the support we’ve gotten, it would be the final piece of the puzzle to let these kids know we’ve arrived and play football with the big boys.”
Chris Whitaker can be reached at (601) 961-7344 or email@example.com. Follow @ChrisWhitaker79 on Twitter.
Class 1A championship
11 a.m., Friday
at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford
Simmons (11-0) vs. Resurrection (13-0)