(PHOTO: Pearl safety Chris Chambers) This might be the best night of high school football in the state each year. With the MAIS deciding state champions and the MHSAA featuring the top eight teams in each classification, there are great games all over Mississippi. Most of these games are too close to pick and nobody has any idea what will happen, but we’ll pick them anyway. Good luck to everyone Friday night.
Nov 22-23 Playoff Matchups
Starkville (9-3) at South Panola (12-1)
South Panola hasn’t lost to a team from Mississippi all year. Other than Tupelo hanging in for a 14-8 loss earlier this season, no other team has stayed within 18 points of the Tigers. Junior Darrell Henderson has a chance to top the 2,000-yard mark if he can put together another 100-yard rushing effort. Starkville, the defending 5A champs, beat a quality Grenada team last week and allowed just a touchdown in the process, but that could change against a more potent South Panola offense. Starkville quarterback Princeton Jones has done a great job all year with 31 total touchdowns, but the Tigers are too deep on both sides of the ball for a Yellowjacket upset.
Tupelo (11-1) at Madison Central (9-3)
Tupelo has been the story in 6A this season. Trent Hammond has directed a remarkable turnaround in his first season at Tupelo. The Golden Wave’s 11 wins are their most since 1993 and a win Friday would put them in the North State title game for the first time since their state title season in 1992. The defense has quietly been the best statistical defense in 6A all season, led by underrated senior linebacker James Gilleylen. But it’s hard to pick against a Madison Central program that has reached five consecutive North State title games. MC senior quarterback Joseph Willis, junior tailback Trey Smith and junior receiver Keenan Barnes have combined for 5,706 yards of offense. I think Madison Central has the better team but this should be a good one.
Brandon (11-1) at Meridian (9-3)
Brandon has been consistently good all season and have played their best late in the year following a loss to Petal, but they’ll have to win at Ray Stadium to advance despite being the region champ in the regular season. They are riding a five-game winning streak and scored over 40 points in all five games. Meridian started the season slowly but also got going late with wins over Petal and Gulfport in the last four weeks. They outscored Gulfport 49-46 last week but the Brandon defense will be much tougher. Expect Brandon to advance but the atmosphere in Meridian should be as good as anywhere Friday night.
Oak Grove (11-1) at Petal (10-2)
Oak Grove dominated the Panthers 31-14 seven weeks ago in Oak Grove, but Petal is playing better now. Tyus Raine has rushed for 328 yards the last two weeks, with James Milledge also topping 100 yards in each game. Oak Grove has outscored their last three opponents 136-6 and is peaking at the right time themselves. Kirk McCarty has thrown for 3,136 yards and 35 touchdowns and should lead the Warriors to a win in the state’s best matchup of the night. Get there early, this crowd should be huge.
Pearl (11-2) at Oxford (12-0)
Oxford has been as impressive as any team in the state this year, regardless of class. Every win has been by double digits with a trio of sophomores leading the way. Quarterback Jack Abraham has accounted for 2,850 yards passing and 32 touchdowns, running back Kenzie Phillips has rushed for 1,377 yards and 19 scores, and wideout D. K. Metcalf has 35 catches for 440 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing several games. Pearl also garnered headlines for much of the season until a blowout loss to Callaway, but rebounded impressively last week with a 33-20 win over West Point. The Pirates also have a strong trio of skill players in Jordan Wright, arguably the best junior running back in the state with 1,653 yards and 28 touchdowns, sophomore quarterback Ledarius Carpenter (2,347 yards passing) and senior wide receiver Demorrious Brown (1,105 yards receiving). Oxford is a favorite at home but expect plenty of offense from both teams.
Clarksdale (7-4) at Callaway (12-0)
Henry Johnson has done one of the best jobs in the state this year, taking over a Clarksdale team with one winning season in the last five years and reaching the second round of the playoffs. The Wildcats have rushed for nearly 3,000 yards with much of the damage done by 1,000-yard rusher Juantavius Gray. They are facing a Callaway team that has the largest point differential in 5A, outscoring teams 497-143. Four seniors with SEC futures have grabbed the headlines, but four other players have each rushed for at least 700 yards led by senior Kendrick Catchings with 900 yards. Callaway is deeper than they are given credit and should remain undefeated.
Picayune (9-2) at Wayne County (10-2)
Wayne County was my preseason choice to reach Jackson and claim the 5A state title, and the War Eagles have played like a championship team for much of the season. The offense has been dominant with 519 points, but the team’s strength is a defensive line led by senior Ronald Ollie and sophomore Benito Jones who is expected to be a major recruit in two years. Picayune has done nothing to make anyone think they aren’t a championship team. The only two close games they played all year resulted in narrow losses to very good teams in Petal and Pascagoula. Senior Preston Dedeaux might be the state’s most underrated running back with 1,629 yards, but playing at Wayne County gives the War Eagles a slight edge.
Laurel (11-1) at Brookhaven (9-3)
Laurel won this matchup convincingly at Brookhaven earlier in the season with a 31-13 victory. Still a young team, Laurel is led by a pair of sophomores who have enjoyed great seasons in quarterback Keon Howard and wideout Octavius Cooley. Brookhaven has won five straight and pulled off last week’s biggest upset with a win at Pascagoula. Senior quarterback Fred Trevillion has done a little of everything this year with 25 touchdowns and over 2,100 yards. He’ll need a big night for Ole Brook to pull off their second straight upset, but the home loss earlier this season should have the Panthers ready.
Rosa Fort (11-1) at Cleveland (8-5)
Noxubee County (9-3) at Lafayette (8-5)
Lafayette pulled off the 7-0 upset at Greenwood last week and has rattled off six straight wins behind a defense allowing just over six points per game. However, Noxubee County is riding a seven-game winning streak and allowing just 4.5 points per game in those contests. The Tigers struggled to find offense earlier in the year, but found it in the final month. They are still the favorite to come out of the north half of 4A.
Quitman (8-4) at Vancleave (7-5)
Forrest County (10-2) at St. Stanislaus (12-0)
This is a tough game to pick. St. Stanislaus is the story of the year, rebounding from an 0-9 season a year ago to run the table with a perfect 12-0 mark. The offensive numbers have been eye-popping with quarterback Tyler Allen passing for 3,853 yards and 46 scores, and wideout Brennen Bradley hauling in 85 of those passes for 1,571 yards. But the Rock-A-Chaws didn’t face as difficult a schedule as Forrest County, who has won five straight. It sets up as a great game, but Mississippi State commit Dontavian Lee gives Forrest County the advantage after rushing for 1,483 yards this season.
Charleston (11-1) at North Pontotoc (10-3)
Louisville (13-0) at East Side (10-3)
Louisville senior quarterback Wyatt Roberts kept the Wildcat offense humming last week with a 354-yard passing effort against Water Valley. Louisville has rushed for over 2,000 yards as a team, and has passed for more than 2,400 yards. East Side has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Quadre Butler and Taquille Eatmon, with Butler second among all 3A running backs in yards with 1,603. East Side also leads all of 3A with 4,245 rushing yards and can control the ball, but Louisville has not shown any chinks in the armor with stellar play all year long. They’ve outscored opponents 523-80.
Seminary (10-3) at Wilkinson County (10-3)
Tylertown (8-5) at Hazlehurst (12-1)
With Louisville’s success, Hazlehurst has been overlooked as the defending state champs in 3A. D’Alex Rockingham has put up 1,384 rushing yards, averaging over nine yards per carry. Jarvis Warner is knocking on the door of a 1,000-yard season himself. Tylertown has rushed for 3,441 yards and 42 touchdowns as a team but the Indians are too deep with talent.
Eupora (9-2) at Baldwyn (10-3)
West Bolivar (9-3) at Calhoun City (9-3)
Mize (9-4) at East Marion (11-2)
Bassfield (12-1) at Taylorsville (11-2)
Under normal circumstances this would be a great matchup of 2A heavyweights, but Bassfield’s dominance the last two seasons has overshadowed the rest of 2A. Taylorsville has had a great season with two tough losses to Hazlehurst and East Marion, and can count on quarterback James Keys who has piled up the yardage, but Bassfield will be a heavy favorite in every game until a team knocks them off.
St. Aloysius (8-4) at Hamilton (9-3)
Smithville (9-3) at Broad Street (9-2)
Lumberton (7-5) at French Camp (8-5)
Stringer (11-1) at Hinds AHS (9-4)
Stringer senior Tevin Moore leads the state with 2,155 rushing yards, scoring 26 touchdowns. He has powered Stringer’s pursuit of back-to-back championships all season, with help. As a team, the Red Devils have rushed for 4,551 yards and a staggering 61 touchdowns. Hinds AHS is led by junior Derrius West who has rushed for 1,053 yards.
MAIS AAA, Division 1 Championship
Jackson Prep (11-2) vs Jackson Academy (12-0) (at Mississippi College), Friday, 7:00
Jackson Academy has proven to be the class of the MAIS all year with an unblemished record on the field. They forfeited a pair of games due to an ineligible player but no team has handed them a loss. Duncan Maxwell has rushed for 1,455 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging over eight yards a carry, as the team has outscored opponents 443-96. Quarterback Nick Conley and athlete Daniel Kennedy have also been weapons all year, but the defense has led. They only allowed 58 points to MAIS opponents all season. Jackson Prep pulled out a dramatic win over MRA last week to set up the traditional championship matchup with a Gabe Wood touchdown toss late in the game. Replacing current Ole Miss quarterback Ryan Buchanan, Wood accounted for nearly 1,800 yards and 29 touchdowns with just three turnovers as a junior. The earlier matchup this season between the two teams could have gone either way with the Raiders pulling out a 24-14 win in a game with near identical total offense statistics. Motivation from last year’s loss is enough to get JA over the hump.
MAIS AAA, Division II Championship
Magnolia Heights (9-2) vs Lamar School (10-3) (at Mississippi College), Saturday, 7:00
I picked Magnolia Heights to go all the way in the preseason and I’m sticking with them despite the great season from Lamar School. Travis Beam rushed for 314 yards last week in a win over Oak Forest and will need another big game for the Chiefs to bring home a championship. Lamar is led by senior Lee Martin, one of the best athletes in the MAIS.
MAIS AA Championship
Simpson Academy (12-1) vs Centreville Academy (12-1) (at Mississippi College), Friday, 1:00
This is a matchup of traditional power programs with 13 state championships combined. Centreville has eight of them, but Simpson has claimed four in the last ten years. Simpson has relied on a dominant defense and physical running game all season. They’ve allowed the fewest points in the AA ranks with 102 points against, more than 34 points fewer than the next team. Senior Daniel Taylor ranks fourth in the MAIS with 1,774 rushing yards, but he’s not alone with three different players topping 100 yards two weeks ago. Seth Batton is one of the best ends in the MAIS. Centreville is playing without star quarterback Casey Haygood who was lost to injury two weeks ago, but freshman Britt Netterville stepped in with a pair of touchdown passes last week. John Marcus McDowell and Tyler Caston power the ground game. This is another close game, but Simpson’s defense leads the Cougars to their fifth title in 11 seasons.
MAIS A Championship
Trinity Episcopal (12-0) vs Marshall Academy (12-1) (at Mississippi College), Saturday, 2:00
This is the matchup that has been obvious since early in the season. Trinity Episcopal outscored opponents 534-90 while Marshall put up 673 total points, scoring 50 or more in five games. Trinity quarterback Michael Whitely and Marshall signal-caller Dakota Dailey combined for 100 touchdowns between them. Trinity beat potential AA champion Centreville 44-18 early in the season, good enough to earn the role of favorite.
MAIS 8-Man Championship
Sharkey-Issaquena (13-0) vs Franklin (LA) (10-2), (at Mississippi College), Saturday, 10:00 a.m.
There might not be a more exciting game in any championship game this year regardless of classification with the two teams averaging nearly 100 points per game combined. Sharkey has run through their schedule unbeaten, setting up an opportunity for their first state championship.