GAUTIER — For most folks, the thought of having to rise early on Thanksgiving morning and head off to work isn’t that appealing.
But that simply just wasn’t the case for Gautier head football coach Marc High. In fact, in all liikelihood, he had a smile on his face as he headed for the Gators’ practice field Thursday just after breakfast.
That’s because, for the second consecutive season, High, in his seventh season at the helm of Gautier, has his squad in the Class 5A South State championship game for the first time in school history.
Gautier heads to Laurel for the second time in three weeks Friday for a date with the home-standing Golden Tornadoes “Between the Bricks” at Watkins Stadium with a trip to the Class 5A state championship game on the line.
“It’s like I’ve been telling everybody for most of the year, what we have accomplished is a tribute to all the coaches and players on this team,” High said, around noon Thursday just after his Gators had wrapped up a holiday practice session. “This coaching staff has done everything they can to get the most out of these players, and the players have done everything we have asked of them every day in practice and in games.
“Now we just have to go out and play the game and see what happens”
The trip back to Laurel comes on the heels of a 48-30 loss to the Golden Tornadoes on the first Thursday in November in what was a battle for the Region 4-5A title. That trip marked the first time ever Gautier played a football game in Laurel and that historic stadium.
Now, the Gators get another chance to capture what would be the biggest win on the football field in program history by heading back to the same spot.
“It’s more of a familiar situation for us, unlike last time,” High added. “The kids had never been there, knew nothing about playing there and it showed a little late in the game. But that shouldn’t be the case this time hopefully, we were just there a few weeks ago.”
These teams had met just once all time previously and that was 23 years ago until three weeks ago, and Gautier has never beaten Laurel in two attempts. Gautier has never played in the state championship, while Laurel has won three state crowns and played for three others.
The Gators stand 8-4 overall on the season, while the Golden Tornadoes just edged over the .500 mark for the first time all season long last week when a 31-28 win over Brookhaven pushed them to 7-6 overall.
Laurel, in fact, stood a paltry 1-5 entering October and the opening of region play but has won six of its last seven games including that aforementioned win over Gautier.
“I think they may have been under the radar a lot of the year because of their record,” High said. “But not by us, we knew how good they are and we knew the caliber of competition they played throughout the first part of the season. They are a very, very good football team.”
High and his Gators are without a doubt the surprise story of the season in the “Southern Six”. After all, Gautier lost all-world quarterback Kaden Irving. along with his two top wide receivers as well as the entire starting offensive line from last season.
But again, for the second straight season, Gautier is just one win away from playing in its first-ever state championship game on the gridiron.
“I’ve said before that the only people that probably thought this was possible were the ones that are in that field house every day,” High concluded. “We had a bunch of players to replace coming off last year, but it was always just kind of a ‘next man up’ philosophy for us. We’ve got to continue to think and play that way.”
The winner of the Gautier-Laurel game will meet the survivor of the Class 5A North State championship game between West Point and Clarksdale next week in Oxford in the state title tilt.