Ten Games to Watch — Week 1

Starkville at Brandon

No. 1 Starkville makes the trip down to Brandon to face the No. 3 Bulldogs in a huge season opener between two top-five teams and contenders in 6A. This game will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the state in Brandon’s Will Rogers and Starkville’s Luke Altmyer. It will also feature two of the better defenses in 6A as Brandon is led by linebacker Zihenryon Perry and defensive end Jordan Lawson. Starkville is led by defensive tackle Jaylan Ware along with linebackers Keyshawn Lawrence and Tyrese Hopkins. The Yellowjacket ground game led by promising junior Amariya Howard is the difference. 

Pick: Starkville 21-17

Pearl at Clinton, Thursday

The No. 5 Pearl Pirates make the short trip on I-20 over to Clinton to face the Arrows on a Thursday night special between the metro area rivals. Pearl brings back all 11 starters on offense led by running back Kenyatta Harrell. Clinton will have Caleb Miller in as the new quarterback and will have a big target at wide receiver to get the ball to in MSU commit E. Jai Mason. Sophomore running back Xynarus Haynes will be one to watch for the Arrows. Pirates are too much in this one.

Pick: Pearl 35-20

West Point at Horn Lake

It is a clash of defending champions as defending 5A champ and No. 4 West Point heads up to Horn Lake to face the defending 6A champ Eagles. With both teams breaking in a new quarterback, it’ll be a battle of two good running games and very good defenses. Horn Lake’s ground game is led by promising sophomore running back Jaylen Sulten. The Eagle defense will be anchored by defensive tackle Josaih Hayes and linebacker Jakivuan Brown. The Green Wave ground attack will be anchored by Brandon Harris and Dantariyus Cannon, while the defense will be led by linebackers Tyron Orr and Keon Cunningham. That aggressive West Point defense comes up big on the road.

Pick: West Point 17-14

Hattiesburg at Petal, Saturday

Hattiesburg makes the short trip over to Petal to take on the No. 10 Panthers in a season-opening battle of PineBelt rivals. The Panthers will lean on their ground game led by quarterback Decarlos Nicholson along with running backs Micah McGowan and Rashad Handford. Hattiesburg has to break in a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball but keep an eye on safety A.J. Bullock. The Panthers ground game is the difference.

Pick: Petal 28-21

Holmes County Central at Warren Central

Holmes County Central and Warren Central square off in the second game of the Red Carpet Bowl. Warren Central will breaking in its brand new turf field and a new quarterback. The Vikings will like always lean on a hard-nose defense and tough rushing attack led by Malik Sims at linebacker and running back Jerrious Stovall. Holmes Central will be anchored by a passing attack led by quarterback Justin Smith and targets Cory Ellington and Earnest Wade at receiver. The Jaguar defense is a force up front led by Montra Edwards, Theo Hudson and Jedrus Watts. A good matchup to watch is defensive back Khamauri Rogers against Warren Central receiver Demond Patton. The Jaguar defense comes up big.

Pick: Holmes County Central 30-20

Taylorsville at Scott Central, Thursday

Taylorsville makes the trip to Forest to face the Rebels in a rematch of last year’s Class 2A state championship game that saw Scott Central win 21-7. The obvious factor in this game will be Taylorsville quarterback Ty Keyes back at full strength after suffering a broken ankle in the South State title game last year. Keyes will have key targets to throw to in Jabez Griffith and Cedric Beavers. Scott Central is a veteran squad with 15 starters back but have to move on after three big contributors. The Rebels will lean on a heavy rushing attack led by quarterback Treyon Wash along with running backs Jabrelynn Vivians, Jalen Wells and Lajavis Patrick. The Tartars get revenge on the road.

Pick: Taylorsville 35-27

Louisville at Noxubee County

Not only is it the Toothpick Bowl but Tyrone Shorter opens the season against his former team as the Wildcats make the short trip on Highway 14 over to Macon to face the Tigers. Teddy Young begins his era as the new head coach at Noxubee County. Louisville will have Bryandrea Shumaker as the new starting quarterback with Jaquez Thames and Michael Foster leading the rushing attack. The Wildcats will have some new faces in key spots on defense, but Kristian Hopkins will lead on that side of the ball. The key for Noxubee is the play of new quarterback Marlon Windham who is switching over from linebacker. Bobby Shanklin will help lead the offense at running back, while linebackers Trillo Brown and Eldrick Hopkins will anchor a fast and youthful defense. The Wildcats are just too much.

Pick: Louisville 34-20

Pontotoc at Houston

The Warriors will head over to Houston to face the Hilltoppers in a season-opening contest of contenders in Class 4A and 3A. Watch for both teams breaking in new quarterbacks. Pontotoc will have plenty of receivers in Caleb Hobson, Tres Vaughn and Cade Armstrong. Houston will lean heavily on a defense that returns 10 starters anchored by a tough defensive front in Rish Alford, Michael Dedeaux and linebacker Allen Robertson. The Toppers get job done at home.

Pick: Houston 24-17

Collins at Seminary

Collins heads to Seminary to face the county rival Bulldogs in a clash of contenders in Class 3A and 2A. The Collins offense likes to throw it while the Seminary double-wing option will pound it out on the ground. The Tigers will lean on quarterback Hershey McLaurin along with running backs Antonio Spencer and Emmanuel Lockhartand. The top receiver is Christopher Keys. The Bulldogs will lean on Jordan Barrett and new starting quarterback Jabari Fox to lead the run-heavy offense. Linebacker and Ole Miss commit Austin Keys is one to watch for Seminary as the defense steps up big at home.

Pick: Seminary 22-20

Jackson Prep at Heritage Academy (1-0)

It’s the battle of the Patriots and state title contenders in the MAIS as Jackson Prep takes on Heritage Academy. Heritage played its first game last week in the SECIS Classic and ran past Heritage School (Ga.). Prep will have Matt Jones stepping in at running back to lead the rushing attack along with quarterback Jake Lange back to lead the offense. The defensive front will be the key for Prep led by J.C. Polk, Reed Kellum, and Holmes Maley. Heritage will lean on quarterback Carter Putt and receiver Jared Long. The key factor is how can Heritage handle Prep’s speed and that speed is the difference.

Pick: Jackson Prep 31-24