At a Glance: MHSAA Football State Championships
At M.M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg
HORN LAKE (14-0) vs. OAK GROVE (12-2)
Kickoff: Friday, 7 p.m.
Horn Lake Eagles at a Glance
Coach: Brad Boyette
State Championships: None.
State Championship Appearances: First Appearance.
How they got here: def. Warren Central 19-0; def. Starkville 35-14; def. Madison Central 16-7.
Players to Watch: QB/DB Raydarius Jones, RB Patrick Gilliam, LB Nakobe Dean, DB Tony Washington, DL Omar Pew, DL Josaiah Hayes, TE Jakivuan Brown.
Coach Speak: “First off, this has been great year for our community and I’m just humbled that we could be in the situation we are now. We just got to do what we do offensively and run the ball,” Boyette said. “Defensively, we got our hands full. Plumlee is an outstanding athlete and the weapons he as to spread the ball around to. So we better come ready.”
Oak Grove Warriors at a Glance
Coach: Drew Causey
State Championships: 2013.
State Championship Appearances: 2014, 2013, 2009, 2003.
How they got here: def. Harrison Central 45-14; def. Petal 48-35; def. Brandon 21-10.
Players to Watch: ATH John Rhys Plumlee (Georgia commit); RB Jarius Smith; WR Kevin Barnett; DB Jarius Reimonenq (Arkansas State commit); DE Jack Harris (Mississippi State commit).
Coach Speak: “These kids have earned this position they’ve put themselves in and we are really excited about this week. It’ll be two very good football teams and Horn Lake is a complete team,” Causey said. “They’re very talented on defense and offensively they are explosive, so we got our hands full. Our goal is to make teams play the whole field and not load the box to stop the run and we’ve been able to do that these last few weeks. Hopefully we can this week.”
Buzz: Horn Lake is in the Class 6A state championship game for the first time in school history, while Oak Grove is in the state title for the fifth time and the third time in the last six years. This will be a battle of an explosive offenses against dominating defenses. Oak Grove is led by an offense that averages 34.6 points per game, 231.9 yards rushing per game and 179.1 yards per game passing. Georgia quarterback commit John Rhys Plumlee is a big-time athlete and has piled up the yardage all year running and passing. Running back Nick Milsap and receivers Kevin Barnett, Tavion Smith and Tyson Keys add to the talent pool. The Warrior defense does allow 18.9 points per game. Mississippi State commit Jack Harris is hard to block up front. Defensive back Jarius Reimonenq and linebackers Javarian Jenkins and Joey Griffith are leaders. Horn Lake offensively is averaging 38.8 points per game, powered by 258.4 yards rushing per game. Quarterback Raydarious Jones is a big-play threat and running back Patrick Gilliam has been solid all season. Jones will likely be in the SEC next season. The Eagles are averaging 121.1 yards per game passing with Octavius Williams being a top receiver. The Horn Lake stingy defense only gives up 10.1 points per game led by one of the nation’s best linebackers in Nakobe Dean. Defensive back Tony Washington and defensive tackles Josaih Hayes and Omar Pew have been big. This game is being played six miles from Oak Grove, so the Warriors will definitely have the crowd advantage and Plumlee comes up big for the Warriors late in the game.
Pick: Oak Grove 24-21.
WEST POINT (13-1) vs. WEST JONES (12-2)
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m.
West Point Green Wave at a Glance
Coach: Chris Chambless
State Championships: 2017, 2016, 2010, 2009, 2005, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1982.
State Championship Appearances: 2017, 2016, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2002, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1984, 1982.
How they got here: def. Canton 55-27; def. Lafayette 27-20; def. Olive Branch 35-0.
Players to Watch: RB Brandon Harris; RB Dantariyus Cannon; OL Ezekiel Head; DL Jaylon Congious; DB Ryan Melton; SS Tyler Rupert.
Coach Speak: “It seems like each senior group wants to leave with their own legacy. They know the community pressure and love playing football in West Point and the kids play hard and are so passionate about giving back to the community and school. They have great pride,” Chambless said. “We can’t turn the ball over because they will make you pay for it. West Jones’ offense is very efficient and they aren’t going to beat themselves, and they play great defense. Your goal is to control the line scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that’ll be a huge challenge.”
Mustangs at a Glance
Coach: Scott Pierson
State Championships: None.
State Championship Appearances: First appearance.
How they got here: def. Stone 25-23; def. Hattiesburg 37-14; def. Picayune 21-13.
Players to Watch: QB Alan Follis; RB Jasper Jones; WR Antonie Kirk; DE Byron Young (Alabama commit); DL Damion Cunningham; LB Sley Lyon; LB Londarrius McRunnels.
Coach Speak: “We got our work cut out for us because they’ve been doing it the right way for a long time. The proof is in the pudding. When they get here they win and they’ll be by far the best we will play all year,” Pierson said. “I think the key to the game is the line of scrimmage. If they control it then it’ll be a long night for us, but if we can get some stops and our offense can get the ball then we have a chance. I like our front seven, but West Point has seen front seven’s like us, so this won’t be nothing new to them.”
Buzz: This might be the David vs. Goliath state championship game this year with West Jones making their first state championship game in school history while West Point is seeking its third straight Class 5A state title. They reached the state championship for the 12th time in school history. The Green Wave have been a 5A favorite all year and averages 34.9 points per game offensively. Their running game averages 275.3 yards per game led by Brandon Harris, Kameron Martin and Jimothy Mays. West Point’s defense allows just 12.5 points per game led by defensive lineman Jaylon Congious along with defensive back Ryan Melton and safety Tyler Rupert. Linebackers Brentt Cunningham and Brandin Lairy are ones to watch for West Point, who is currently on a 11-game winning streak. The Mustang defense only allows 8.8 points per game led by defensive end and Alabama commit Byron Young, defensive tackle Damion Cunningham and linebackers Sley Lyon and Londarrius McRunnels. The West Jones offense averages 29.1 points per game and they stress balance, averaging 147.4 yards per game passing and 132.7 yards per game rushing. Quarterback Alan Follis, running back Jasper Jones and receiver Jalen Graham are the leaders. The Green Wave are a different animal to deal with in the state championship game and they three-peat.
Pick: West Point 27-17.
LOUISVILLE (14-1) vs. POPLARVILLE (13-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Wildcats at a Glance
Coach: M.C. Miller
State Championships: 2013, 2008, 2007, 1995, 1993, 1991, 1986, 1985.
State Championship Appearances: 2013, 2008, 2007, 1995, 1993, 1991, 1986, 1985.
How they got here: def. Byhalia 41-0; def. Clarksdale 59-0; def. Pontotoc 56-7; def. Greenwood 17-14.
Players to Watch: QB Deontae Yarbrough; RB Kevon Jackson; OL Derrion Dora; DL Charles Moore (Mississippi State commit); LB Ashanti Cistrunk (Ole Miss commit); LB Kristian Hopkins; DL Derius Hopkins.
Coach Speak: “It is a honor to get back here, especially with it being my last year. The kids have been pushing and preparing to get to this point and now we’re here,” Miller said. “Offensively we have to be able to move the ball because we’re facing an offense that likes to control the clock. Got to be able to stop their wing-T offense and got to be physical on the line of scrimmage.”
Hornets at a Glance
Coach: Jay Beech
State Championships: None.
State Championship Appearances: 2016.
How they got here: def. Lanier 50-20; def. NE Lauderdale 40-8; def. South Pike 49-28; def. East Central 33-17.
Players to Watch: QB Antonio Barnes; RB Chase Shears; RB Amahd Bolton; RB Tyson Holston; LB Ross Barnett; LB Zac Owen; DE Devin Hart.
Coach Speak: “A lot of these guys we have were sophomores when we got to the state championship two years ago, so I think we are better prepared and have a better chance of winning just because we know what to expect in a big game like this,” Beech said. “Their front seven is incredible. Our offense might be the only chance to stand a chance with them because they get after the passer. Just play with a great technique and see if we can move the ball which is going to be a very tough challenge to say the least.”
Buzz: Louisville is wanting to send M.C. Miller into retirement on a high note with a state championship and its ninth state title overall. Poplarville is in the state championship game for the second time in three years and the second time in school history. Louisville is 8-0 in state championship games. This will come down to the Wildcat defense and the Poplarville run-heavy offense. The Hornets and Wildcats each come into the state title game on 13-game winning streaks. Louisville offensively is averaging 38.1 points per game led by a balanced offense that averages 188.1 yards per game rushing and 143.8 yards per game passing. Quarterback Deontae Yarbrough, running back Kevon Jackson and receiver Alvius Haynes are solid. The Wildcat defense has been nothing short of dominant, only allowing 8.4 points per game with Mississippi State defensive tackle commit Charles Moore getting better each week as he’s gotten healthier from a knee injury. Linebacker and Ole Miss commit Ashanti Cistrunk has battled injury as well but can be dominant. Poplarville’s offense is averaging 42.6 points per game and is led by a rushing attack that averages 320.5 yards per game. It’s anchored by quarterback Antonio Barnes and running backs Ethan Taylor, Amahd Bolton, Cory Knight and Chase Shears. The Poplarville defense only gives up 14.9 points per game led by linebacker Ross Barnett. The Wildcat defense is just too dominant, and Louisville remains unbeaten in state title games.
Pick: Louisville 21-17.
WATER VALLEY (13-2) vs. SEMINARY (12-3)
Kickoff: Friday, 11 a.m.
Blue Devils at a Glance
Coach: Brad Embry
State Championships: 1990.
State Championship Appearances: 1990.
How they got here: def. Yazoo County 34-7; def. Booneville 41-14; def. Houston 20-8; def. North Panola 43-28.
Players to Watch: QB Blayne Clark; RB Kenterrious Rucker; OL/DL Marley Cook; WR/DB Bud Tolbert; DE Nate Murphy; LB Javarius Benson.
Coach Speak: “It is not easy to get here and 1990 has been a long time for Water Valley and we’re glad to be back. It has been a long process to get here,” Embry said. “Anytime you make it you got to be good in all three phases. We don’t see much of the wing-T offense so that presents a big challenge. Seminary is gifted on defense and present challenges there but when you get to this point you’re going to face a good opponent.”
Bulldogs at a Glance
Coach: Brian Rials
State Championships: 2003.
State Championship Appearances: 2003.
How they got here: def. SE Lauderdale 53-27; def. Raleigh 22-6; def. Winona 46-41; def. Jefferson Davis County 15-9.
Players to Watch: DL Nathan Pickering (Mississippi State commit); RB Marquis Crosby; RB Jordan Barrett; LB Austin Keys; LB Caleb Reardon.
Coach Speak: “We started out the year 1-3 and we began to wonder, but now two of those early losses are playing for state championships as well and things just started clicking for us,” Rials said. “Water Valley is a great defensive team and with our backs it’ll be interesting, especially against a team you don’t know much about. We aren’t going to change anything, but it will be a challenge. They are a great team.”
Buzz: Both Water Valley and Seminary are in the state championship game for the second time in school history and both teams won in their last state title game appearances. So something has to give. The matchup to watch will be the Water Valley defense against the Seminary running game. The Bulldogs are averaging 31.3 points per game along with 308.5 yards per game rushing, led by a duo of running backs in Jordan Barrett and Marquis Crosby. The Bulldog defense is giving up 20.4 points per game anchored by a major talent in defensive tackle and Mississippi State commit Nathan Pickering. Pickering has taken over games individually all season. Water Valley is averaging 36.2 points per game offensive led by a running game that is averaging 181.9 yards per game with running backs Kenterrious Rucker and Jacob Truss. Wide receiver Bud Tolbert is one to watch for the Blue Devils. The Blue Devil defense can be the difference in this one, only giving up 11.8 points per game led by linebackers Javarius Benson and Grant Burress. It could go either way but the Bulldog defense comes up big late.
Pick: Seminary 21-20.
SCOTT CENTRAL (14-1) vs. TAYLORSVILLE (15-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 3 p.m.
Rebels at a Glance
Coach: Devin Cooper
State Championships: 1999.
State Championship Appearances: 2003, 1999, 1997.
How they got here: def. Bruce 55-6; def. South Delta 34-0; def. Eupora 28-14; def. Calhoun City 27-0.
Players to Watch: QB/DB Treyon Wash; RB/DE Hydee Barlow; RB/LB Navonteque Strong; LB/ATH Q’Vontae McDonald; OL/DE Carson Williams.
Coach Speak: “It is a privilege just to get here and knowing the struggle to get here is hard. We’ve been able to catch breaks along the way, but most importantly to stay healthy with the players we got is big,” Cooper said. “Even with their backup quarterback, Taylorsville is still going to make plays. There wasn’t much of let down on offense for them and they can for sure run the ball. Keyes wasn’t a one-man show, so we have to be ready defensively. We are going to have to do what we do and play fast on defense.”
Tartars at a Glance
Coach: Mitch Evans
State Championships: 2017, 2002, 1998, 1995, 1994, 1991.
State Championship Appearances: 2017, 2007, 2002, 1998, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1991, 1982, 1981.
How they got here: def. Perry Central 50-0; def. Pisgah 48-7; def. Collins 14-12; def. Bay Springs 15-8.
Players to Watch: WR Raven Arrington; RB Keyon Bass; OL Zarian McGill; LB C.J. William; DL Ty Boyland; DB Calvin Boyland.
Coach Speak: “Our goal was to get here back in June and I preached all year how hard it is to get here. It’s just as hard to repeat and we came down here to win and that’s the plan,” Evans said. “Offensively it was big blow losing Keyes, but with my son (Karson) being the back up and with a week of preparation he will play well and take care of the ball. We got a 1,000 yard running back and people just think we throw the ball all the time when we don’t. Our defense has been the spotlight of our team the last several weeks. It will be a hard hitting game. Scott Central is a physical team and we got to match their intensity.”
Buzz: Unbeaten Taylorsville is aiming for back-to-back 2A state titles since doing it in 1995 and 1994, while Scott Central is in the state title game for the first time since 2003 and fourth time overall in school history. The biggest note is Taylorsville will go with Karson Evans at quarterback after starter Ty Keyes broke his ankle in last week’s playoff game against Bay Springs. Evans did lead the Tartars to a game-winning drive in the final minute of the game to secure the win but will now face a Scott Central defense that has been nothing short of dominating all season long. Taylorsville is averaging 35.3 points per game and 257 yards per game passing led by receivers Raven Arrington and Jalon Clark who have had huge seasons. Running back Keyon Bass is one to watch for the Tartars. The Taylorsville defense has been huge all season only allowing 9.3 points per game, anchored by defensive end Hunter Lee and linebacker C.J. Williams. The Scott Central defense allows just 8.5 points per game led by linebackers Navonteque Strong and Vontae McDonald. The Rebels are averaging 34.3 points per game offensively led by a rushing attack that averages 233.6 yards game. Quarterback Treyon Wash and running backs Jabrelynn Vivians, Hydee Barlow and McDonald do the most damage. Rebel head coach Devin Cooper was the quarterback when Scott Central won its lone state title in 1999 and leads his alma mater to another one as first year head coach.
Pick: Scott Central 24-20.
HOLLANDALE SIMMONS (14-0) vs. NANIH WAIYA (14-1)
Kickoff: Friday, 3 p.m.
Blue Devils at a Glance
Coach: Timothy Johnson
State Championships: 2017, 2016, 2015.
State Championship Appearances: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2005.
How they got here: def. Tupelo Christian 58-23; def. Biggersville 32-0; def. Smithville 20-6.
Players to Watch: QB Tyderius Gipson; ATH Demarrius Turner; WR/DB Antavius Rounds; RB/DL Malik Thomas; ATH Tyrenn Altman; OL/DL Josh Jordan.
Coach Speak: “Just glad to bring Simmons back for a fourth year in a row and the kids have worked really hard and have bought in to me with me being their third head coach in three years,” Johnson said. “Nanih Waiya is going to be a challenge. They’re big and fast and run the ball well. It is going to be a physical game and the game will go down to who has the ball last just like last year’s game.”
Warriors at a Glance
Coach: James Courtney
State Championships: None.
State Championship Appearances: 2017, 1991.
How they got here: def. Resurrection 48-0; def. Stringer 41-14; def. East Marion 28-8.
Players to Watch: QB Donovan Turner; RB/LB Shia Moore; OL/DL Caleb Warren (Ole Miss commit); OL/DE Kyle Holdiness; OL/DE Blake Sheets.
Coach Speak: “Last year as the defensive coordinator, all I did was signals, but now as the head coach it is a whole different perspective. Having the experience we got last year definitely helps,” Courtney said. “Simmons is extremely talented, fast and they play hard and with a lot of effort. We know they’re going to score, but we need to make them drive the field and prevent the big play. Got to stay in front of the chains and just get behind our offensive line an try to get three or four yards a play and just be patient.”
Buzz: The rematch we’ve been waiting for as Nanih Waiya and Simmons will meet for the second straight year for the Class 1A state title game. The Blue Devils won a nail-biter over the Warriors 22-20 at Ole Miss last season to three-peat as state champs and are aiming to be the first team since South Panola to win four state championships in a row. Simmons is coming into the game tied for the nation’s longest active winning streak at 54 games and is anchored by a defense that only gives up 4.5 points per game. Linebackers Stemarion Edwards and Tyren Altman are big-time. Simmons is averaging 44.5 points per game offensively and is very balanced averaging 266 yards per game rushing and 211.9 yards per game passing. They are led by quarterback Tyderius Gipson, running back Demarrius Turner and receivers C.J. Williams and Antavius Rounds. Turner is as good as there is in 1A. Nanih Waiya is led by a defense that only allows 7.5 points a game led by linebacker Taylor Higginbotham and defensive end Dewonta Turner. Offensively, the Warriors are averaging 40.2 points per game led by a rushing attack that averages 327.3 yards per game. It is anchored by quarterback Donovan Turner and running backs Shia Moore and Devean Turner. Ole Miss commit Caleb Warren anchors a veteran offensive line for the Warriors. This one will be close again but Simmons speed is too much.
Pick: Simmons 22-21.