As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s the goal of every coach, player, and fan of a prep football team in the state of Mississippi for their team to be practicing the week of that holiday because that means you are just one win away from a spot in the state championship game.
Another Monday. A week of practice during Thanksgiving when the rest of your classmates are out of school on vacation. This is what six prep football teams in the “Southern six”, and Rock’s Locks, are aiming for Friday night.
This time of the year, with the holiday approaching, one more Monday means your season is still alive. And take it from a sportswriter that has been lucky enough over his career to cover eight teams that won state championships and four others that won south state titles before falling in the state title game, there’s nothing like practicing the week of Thanksgiving for prep football players. It means you’re on the verge of perhaps creating something special.
Rock’s Locks went 11-2 last week and now stands at 124-32 on the season for an overall winning percentage of just over 80 percent.
“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly…”
- Vancleave at Gautier (Game of the Week) — This Class 5A South State semifinal match-up marks the second meeting in a little over a month between these two Jackson County neighboring rivals, and its the first time in history that the Gators and Bulldogs have squared off in the state playoffs. It’s been seven years since Vancleave won as many as two playoff games in the same season, and Gautier has never accomplished that feat. The Gators, in fact, won their first playoff game in 17 years last week. Gautier won the first meeting this year easily, 55-28. We don’t see things being much different this time around, as the Gators earn their first-ever trip to a South State championship game. Gautier 42, Vancleave 27.
- West Jones at Picayune — The unbeaten and defending Class 5A state champion Maroon Tide faces yet another old familiar foe in the other Class 5A South State semifinal contest, as the Mustangs come calling to Lee-Triplett Stadium. This marks the ninth meeting all-time between the teams overall, and the seventh in the playoffs. In the past nine seasons, the teams are an even 2-2 in head-to-head playoff meetings. This might be Picayune’s toughest test of the season so far, as the Maroon Tide puts its school-record 23-game win streak n the line. Picayune also has won 15 consecutive home games, with the last loss in that span coming against West Jones in the opening round of the 2020 state playoffs. We’ll give a bit of a shaky nod to…Picayune 28, West Jones 27.
- Oak Grove at Ocean Springs — This marks the sixth time in the past eight seasons that these two teams have faced off in the Class 6A South State playoffs, and the Warriors have won every time. This is, without a doubt, the rematch of the year in the state after OGHS came down to the coast last season in the second round of the playoffs under very similar circumstances and ended the Greyhounds’ dream season with a 28-21 upset. Well, the ‘Hounds have created a second straight dream season scenario, and they hope that the current one doesn’t have a nightmarish ending against these Warriors like the last one did. Ocean Springs 31, Oak Grove 28.
- Warren Central at Brandon — Although a bit outside the footprint of the “Southern Six”, this one holds big implications for the Ocean Springs-Oak Grove winner as that victor will face the survivor of this one in the Class 6A South State championship game next week. Oak Grove along with these two teams actually all finished in a three-way tie atop the Region 3-6A standings, but Brandon was crowned the top seed with OGHS taking the second slot and WCHS the third seed due to tie-breaking procedures. Both teams are coming off comfortable opening-round playoff wins over “Sothern Six” squads, as Brandon hammered Hancock 42-7 and the Vikings thumped Gulfport on the road 38-3. Warren Central 26, Brandon 24.
- Poplarville at Stone — The Tomcats, the Region 8-4A champs, host the Hornets, the top team in Region 5-4A in Wiggins in the Class 4A South State semifinals at A.L. May Stadium on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Hornets are looking for a spot in the Class 4A South State championship game for a state record seventh consecutive season, while this marks the first time in 31 (1991) years that the Tomcats have reached the third round of the state playoffs. Poplarville 30, Stone 14.
- Quitman at Mendenhall — Again, a game a bit outside of the “Southern Six” footprint but with implications on the aforementioned Poplarville-Stone match-up pits the up-start Panthers on the road against the seemingly always powerful Tigers. Mendenhall is coming off a big 29-20 upset of defending Class 4A state champion Columbia last week, while Quitman beat up on Moss Point 38-13 after opening the playoffs with a massive 42-21 upset win on the road against McComb. Mendenhall stands 11-1 on the year, and Quitman is 6-5. The winner of this one faces the winner of the Poplarville-Stone game in the Class 4A South State Championship game the day after Thanksgiving. Mendenhall 44, Quitman 20.