Eat Dirt – I don’t even have to explain that to the common Mississippi high school football fan. When you hear Eat Dirt – you already know; it’s Pearl – Brandon week, and this may be one of the biggest if not the biggest ever Rankin County Super Bowl this Friday night over in Brandon.
Only 8.6 miles separates Pirates Cove from the entrance of Brandon high school at Province Park and HWY 18, but they might as well be miles apart. While the respect is mutual it’s common knowledge Pearl doesn’t care for Brandon and Brandon for Pearl, as most heated high school football rivalries go.
The rivalry has always been heated, but amped up another notch last year when Pearl was moved to Region 3-6A, adding more on the line than bragging rights and a slogan.
Things change quickly around here, and my how they have changed over the last 18 months. This time last year Brandon was the defending 6-3A champion, winning the region in back to back to back years (2013-2015), and held a four game winning streak against their Rankin County Rival – The Pearl Pirates.
Fast forward to this week and Pearl is king of the hill as defending 6-3A and South 6A Champs. The Pirates crushed Brandon last year 35-6, breaking a four game losing streak on their way to a state championship birth.
The Pirates (11-0, 6-0) have an astounding 18-1 record in their last 19 games, with their only loss in the 2016 State Championship game.
Head coach John Perry’s Pirates came into the year with a target on their backs and they never wavered getting it done on both sides of the ball and playing suffocating defense as they are giving up a staggering 7.8 points per game in 2017. The Pirates also seem to have found their rhythm offensively behind senior quarterback Jake Smithhart (21 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions), senior running back Johnny Winston (609 yards and 7 scores) and talented receivers Tylan Knight, Dylan Kelly, Kendarius Evans and Johnquarise Patterson (combined 1,493 receiving yards and 18 scores).
The Pirates are averaging 32.1 points per game on the offensive side of the ball and have gone over 40 a game the last three weeks. To say Pearl is hitting their stride at the right time would be an understatement.
Meanwhile just 8.6 miles down the road, it’s been a different kind of season for the Bulldogs of Brandon, who come into this game at 7-4, 5-1 and would win the region title with a victory Friday night.
Brandon racked up 58 wins to only 14 defeats the five years prior to this season and played in the 2012 State Title game as well as multiple south state championships, averaging 12 wins and only 3 defeats over that time span; but saw struggles early in 2017 losing games to north powers Tupelo, Madison Central and Northwest as well as an overtime loss to region rival Petal.
Just a month ago, many wondered if the Bulldogs would even make the playoffs, yet alone win the region. But, like Pearl, the Bulldogs have turned it on over the last month defeating Meridian, thumping Oak Grove and Jim Hill to get to this point, and this week.
The Bulldogs, like Pearl are playing at a high level defensively allowing only 17 points per ball game and are averaging 35 points per ball game over the last half of the season.
The Bulldogs are doing it behind a revived running game in senior Javarius Spann who has 834 yards on the year and 12 touchdowns and off the arm of sophomore Will Rogers who’s thrown for 2,169 yards, while tossing 16 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions.
Rogers has gotten better each week, keeping the Bulldogs out of bad situations, while using talented wide out Jonathan Mingo (705 yards, 5 TDS), to go along with seniors Matt Stowers, Bo Whatley and Reed Tyler (1,171 yards and 7 TDS collectively) to get the job done.
Together, both Pearl and Brandon could be the top two teams in south 6A as the playoffs approach and this could be the first of two meetings over the next month between these Rankin County rivals.
Pearl is on a mission to stay undefeated and get back to their second straight state championship, while Brandon wants to do to Pearl, what Pearl did to them last year – which is upset the apple cart.
It’s tit for tat in this rivalry and how it’s always been; and how it will always be. It just happens that Friday night the stakes are much higher than normal as both teams are wrestling for Region 3-6A supremacy.
It’s an easy come easy go commute down Highway 80, to Highway 18 on a normal day if you’re going from Pearl to Brandon.
But, come Friday afternoon about 4 pm, those routes will become parking lots as everyone from Bass Pro Shop to Pelahatchie will flood to Bulldog Stadium off of Highway 18 to watch this one.
It’s the Rankin County Super Bowl – and I bet if you ask John Perry or Tyler Peterson, they wouldn’t have this one set up any other way.