The Region 2-6A championship is coming down to the final week of the season as it did last year.
Starkville beat Clinton in a shootout to claim the title, and the two teams meet again Friday in Starkville with first place on the line.
The Arrows have not won a region title since 2002, but a seven-point win over the Yellowjackets can do just that.
Clinton (7-3, 5-1) has won six of its last seven, with the exception being a 28-26 loss to Warren Central. Starkville (9-1, 6-0) has not lost since its season-opening double-overtime loss to Noxubee County. The Yellowjackets hold a game lead over both Warren Central (8-2, 5-1) and Clinton. They can win their third region title in four years with a victory.
But a Starkville loss will make things more interesting as a Warren Central win over Callaway could force a three-way tie. And if that were to happen, the seeding would come down to point differential between the three teams, much like 2013 when Starkville, Warren Central and Madison Central were all tied.
That postseason, Madison Central won out for the top seed.
Starkville has already beaten Warren Central 28-10 this year, but the maximum amount of points for a win or loss according to the MHSAA points tiebreaker is 12. That means if Clinton wins by seven, the Arrows and Yellow Jackets will be tied at plus-5 and Clinton would win based on the head-to-head victory.
Starkville junior defensive back Abdural Lee, the team’s leading tackler, left last week’s game against Warren Central in the second quarter. Yellowjackets coach Ricky Woods said Lee was fine after the game, but his status for Friday’s game has not been determined.
Starkville, which is allowing 8.1 points a game, could be facing a big hole in the secondary if Lee doesn’t play. Clinton quarterback Cam Akers leads the Arrows in passing and rushing. He has 1,745 yards and 16 touchdowns passing, as well as 1,057 rushing yards and 12 scores.
“We’ve gotten better every week,” Woods said. “That’s all you can ask for. It can come down to about six plays in a game and whether you make the plays or don’t make the plays. We’ve got to stop their quarterback and running back, but they’ve got other players besides those two. We have to be consistent on offense and defense and don’t give up big plays.”
South 5A contenders rising
Before the season, Wayne County and Laurel were the favorites to repeat and play for the Class 5A South State title. They are still heading that direction. Their collision on Friday in Laurel will decide the Region 1-5A title.
Laurel (7-3, 6-0) has rebounded from a 1-3 start to dominate region play with three shutouts in six games. The defending 5A champions beat the War Eagles twice last season, which included the South State final.
Wayne County (8-2, 6-0) is one play away from its only loss being to Archbishop Rummel, the No. 1 team in Louisiana according to MaxPreps.
“It’s a healthy rivalry,” said Laurel coach Todd Breland. “The kids know each other, the coaching staffs are real close. We’ve got a lot of respect for that program — I was a part of that program for four years. At the same time I know they’ve got a lot of respect for us. It’s great to play this game at the end of the year with the atmosphere we’re having with it. I think it’s great for high school football in the state of Mississippi.”
The road back to the title not only starts with Wayne County. Let’s not forget Region 4-5A. Pearl River Central (9-1) has wrapped up its first region title in 20 years with its only loss coming to 6A Harrison Central, which is vying for a playoff spot.
The Blue Devils have two running backs over 1,000 yards and are averaging nearly 340 yards a game on the ground. They also lead South 5A in scoring defense (13.9).
Pascagoula, the No. 2 seed in Region 4, is 7-3 and ranks fourth in 5A in scoring defense. The Panthers do have wins over D’Iberville and Hattiesburg, and lost to Ocean Springs 21-14 earlier in the season.
“I haven’t seen those guys down there, but I know what type of programs they have,” Breland said. “They’re no surprise to us. And you can throw Picayune in the mix with them. I know the caliber of teams they have down there. I think we and Wayne County deserve to be at the top, and those guys deserve to be up there as anybody.”
Several games moved to Thursday
With inclement weather looking inevitable on Friday, many games have moved to Thursday.
As of Tuesday evening, 15 games were moved. Of those, some important matchups include Olive Branch at Tupelo (winner gets No. 3 seed in 1-6A); Lake Cormorant at Oxford (LC is hoping for a No. 3 seed in 1-5A); and Class 4A playoff matchups, Amory at Noxubee County and Louisville at Itawamba AHS.