State football finalists enjoy championship week

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2012

JACKSON – Showers of blessings, aka heavy rain, poured down upon the roof of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Monday morning. Inside, high school football coaches talked about “being blessed.”

     Twelve head coaches took turns introducing  their administrators and players during yesterday’s Media Conference for the Blue Cross & Blue Shield Gridiron Classic. Six MHSAA state champions will be decided this weekend at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in the Capital City.

     Fondly referred to as “The Vet,” the aging stadium is recognized as hallowed ground. High school, college and NFL legends have played on that grassy turf.

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     Former sports columnist Rick Cleveland, now serving as executive director for the Sports Hall of Fame, welcomed the large crowd and congratulated the teams for their accomplishments.

     “You have reached the pinnacle of high school football  in Mississippi,” said Cleveland. “You are stepping into some big shoes. You will be playing on hallowed ground.”

     Cleveland talked about some great Mississippi high school players who became famous on the professional level. Names liked Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Steve McNair, Walter Payton and Archie Manning received smiles and nods of admiration from the crowd.

     “Just like you, they come from small towns in Mississippi,” said Cleveland. “Our state is famous for producing great football players.”

     Manning grew up in the little town of Drew. Payton came from Columbia and McNair from Mt. Olive. Rice was from Crawford and Favre from Kiln. All of them should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

     High school football is a priority in the Magnolia State. Folks talk about it year-round, not just during the football season.

     Cleveland addressed the players and the coaches. “You not only honor your family, school and hometown but the whole state.”

     Certainly, the 12 teams are in glory land this week. They need to savor the moment and enjoy it. Take a deep breath and look around. This is a lifetime memory.


     Hazlehurst, coached by Randal Montgomery, is in the Class 3A state championship game for a second straight year. The Indians have authored a perfect 15-0 record.

     They play the Charleston Tigers (14-1) Saturday at 11 a.m. in a revenge match. Charleston is the only returning state champion this year.

     Last December, after losing 34-8 to Charleston, Montgomery urged his players to look at the trophy presentation. Their yearlong goal was a return trip to title game.

     Hazlehurst’s team motto, “212 Degrees,” is the boiling point of water. The Indians have maintained a high level of intensity this year.

     “The only thing that will takes us over the top is a win Saturday,” said a serious Montgomery. He wore a maroon sport coat, reflecting Hazlehurst’s school colors.

     “My coaching staff has worked real hard and done a good job of preparing our kids for each game,” said Montgomery.

     Hazlehurst has 13 seniors on the squad and nine of them start. Present for the Media Day were two of Hazlehurst’s senior class: quarterback Kenny Coleman and running back/linebacker Demetrius Cain. For the record, they were selected The DAILY LEADER’s Overall Most Valuable Player (Cain) and Most Valuable Offensive Player (Coleman) on the 2011 All-Area Football Team.

     “Revenge is a motivation for us,” said the soft-spoken Coleman. “We want to beat them. We have a lot of community support.”

     Cain agreed. “We are focused on winning a gold ball. We have a chip on our shoulder and so do our fans. We are looking for payback.”

     Cain and Coleman have been surrounded by a stronger, wiser and quicker supporting cast this season. Only two starters graduated off of last year’s state runner-up team.

     “We have had other guys step up this season and I’m pleased with that,” said Cain.

     Coleman agreed. “We are better than last year. We have much more drive, motivation and commitment.”

     Charleston, by comparison, lost only to Class 5A Oxford in the second game of the season. The Tigers were quicker and faster than Hazlehurst last year. Obviously, they are strong again.

     Charleston coach Stony Vance said, “We have a bunch of guys who work extremely hard. They are a very unselfish team.”

     Vance said he respects Hazlehurst. “They are an athletic team, better than last year.”

     During team introductions, Vance joked, “I told Coach Montgomery I wish he would leave those two, (Cain and Coleman) at home Saturday.”

     For sure, Cain and Coleman will be there Saturday morning. The goal is a gold ball and a little revenge, too.

     Pascagoula (11-2) meets Starkville for the Class 5A championship Saturday night. The Panthers are one of the surprise finalists. They upset top-ranked Picayune and Pearl River Central on successive Friday nights in a pair of revenge-minded rematches

     “It has been an odyssey for Pascagoula,” said head coach Louis Sims. We even had a hurricane (Isaac). We have defeated everybody on our schedule. It just took us eight quarters to beat two of them,” meaning Picayune and PRC.


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