MHSAA championship begins Friday

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, November 29, 2018

The 2018 MHSAA high school football season culminates this weekend in Hattiesburg with the state championships at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

Even if there aren’t any local teams playing for the gold ball this weekend, there are still plenty of connections to Southwest Mississippi. Three of the six championships games feature teams that are region opponents of area schools.

Class 3A – Water Valley (13-2) vs. Seminary (12-3)

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The first game of the slate begins at 11 a.m. today with the 3A championship. Water Valley avenged one of their two regular-season losses in the north state finals with a 42-28 win over North Panola. Water Valley is located in Yalobusha County and has a little more than 3,000 residents. The town is 30 minutes south of Oxford and serves as a bedroom community for those not interested in the Oxford real estate market.

Seminary — located in Covington County — is the last team standing from the loaded Region 8-3A. The Bulldogs played a daunting schedule and lost non-division games to Collins, Poplarville and Taylorsville before finishing 5-0 in their region. They defeated Winona in the third round of the playoffs 46-41. Winona beat Water Valley 21-20 in late Sept.

To get to the championship game, Seminary beat their region rivals Jefferson Davis County 15-9 in south state. Wesson coach Jeremy Loy knows all about the Bulldogs, as his team spent the last two years in the same region with Seminary. On Oct. 5, his team lost 41-20 at Seminary and Loy says the Bulldogs are the real deal.

“Seminary plays together as a team better than anybody I’ve seen this season,” said Loy. “They’ve got one of the best defensive linemen in the state and he’s a load to block, but they’re more than just him. They’ve got a bunch of kids that do their job on every play.”

Class 1A – Hollandale Simmons (14-0) vs. Nanih Waiya (14-1)

Raise your hand if you both know how to pronounce, and locate, Nanih Waiya.

Nanih Waiya is in south Winston County and is the location of an ancient burial mound that is especially important to the Choctaw people.

In the 1A championship at 3 p.m. today, the Warriors will try to do something that no team has done since Nov. 21, 2014 — beat Hollandale Simmons.

The Simmons Blue Devils are going for their fourth straight championship and have won 54 straight games, which is tied for the longest active winning streak in the nation. The two schools met for the state championship last season and Simmons won 22-20. Nanih Waiya has an Ole Miss commit on their offensive line in 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior Caleb Warren.

Co-Lin head coach Glenn Davis says the Simmons Blue Devils is a program filled with student-athletes that are hungry for the opportunities that football provides.

“Our experience with kids from Simmons has been nothing but great,” said Davis. “Players from the Delta often come from small communities where sports are their only distraction. They’re always hungry to use football to get their education and they’re always thankful for that opportunity. Simmons is going for their fourth straight title and this is the third different head coach they’ve had during that run. They’re winners.”

There is also a Co-Lin connection on the other sideline, as Nanih Waiya head coach James Courtney is a former Wolves assistant who worked for Davis early in his tenure in Wesson.

Class 6A – Horn Lake (14-0) vs. Oak Grove (12-2)

The 6A finale begins at 7 p.m. tonight and features two teams that most probably didn’t pick to be in this position prior to the season.

Oak Grove made the finals with a 21-10 win over Brandon. The Warriors had previously lost 31-21 to Brandon during the regular season. Oak Grove has a Georgia commit at quarterback in John Rhys Plumlee and a Mississippi State commit on their defensive front in Jack Harris. The Oak Grove crowd should be substantial, as their distance to travel to the game is just six miles.

With a little more than two minutes remaining, Horn Lake trailed Madison Central 7-0 in their north state final before a rousing comeback put the Desoto County school into the state finals for the first time. Horn Lake has a five-star senior in Nakobe Dean who is ranked as the No. 1 inside linebacker in the nation. Horn Lake quarterback Raydarious Jones also has offers from Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and LSU as a cornerback.

Horn Lake assistant coach Josh Smith is a Loyd Star and Co-Lin alum. Smith coaches the tight ends and H-backs for the Eagles. He says the Horn Lake sideline never felt like they were out of the game against Madison Central, even when they trailed late.

“The kids stayed upbeat and positive the entire time,” said Smith. “They’ve faced adversity this year and they embrace it. The offense and defense feed off each other and you could tell it was only going to take one play for the whole thing to get sparked for us.”

Smith was a senior in 2008 under Ryan Ross at Loyd Star and grew up playing and watching 2A football in Lincoln County. Now, he’s coaching at the highest level of high school football in the state for a gold ball.

“We have 93 kids on our roster, most 2A schools average around the mid 40s,” said Smith. “Most weeks, we’re facing teams that have at least two high-level Division I recruits, and growing up at Loyd Star, we’d usually face one player of that caliber a year.”

Class 4A – Louisville (14-1) vs. Poplarville (13-1)

The Saturday schedule begins at 11 a.m. with the 4A championship.

Poplarville won Region 7-4A and defeated Lawrence County 48-14 in their regular season finale. Poplarville had their lone loss of the season to 5A Picayune, and the only blemish for Louisville was a defeat to 5A West Point.

Louisville is among the all-time great high school football programs in state history. They have won eight state championships and are in their final year being led by the venerable M.C. Miller.

When Miller retires, he’ll be replaced as head coach by Wesson and Co-Lin alum Randal Montgomery. Montgomery won a state championship previously in his career at Hazlehurst and is currently the Louisville offensive coordinator. The Louisville defense is stout and has a Mississippi State commit in defensive tackle Charles Moore and an Ole Miss commit in linebacker Ashanti Cistrunk.

Poplarville uses a Wing-T offensively and has one of the most dominant ground games in the state. In their south state win over East Central, the Hornets got 173 yards and two touchdowns from junior running back Chase Shears — he did all that on only six carries.

Lawrence County coach Jesse Anderson knows the Hornets well after facing Poplarville for the last two seasons in region play. He says they are a team built on physicality.

“Poplarville does it the right way,” said Anderson. “They block you to the whistle and they are very physical. They fly to the football on defense. You can tell the kids have completely bought in and believe in themselves. They play as hard as any team I’ve seen.”

Class 2A – Scott Central (14-1) vs. Taylorsville (15-0)

The Tarters from Taylorsville have won 25 games in a row and are trying to secure their second straight 2A title. They’ll make the short trip from Smith County and the stadium should have a large contingent of fans wearing green and gold for the 3 p.m. matchup on Saturday.

Scott Central has one state championship in their trophy case while Taylorsville has six. A little bit of the luster was knocked off this matchup when Taylorsville quarterback Ty Keyes broke his ankle in the south state finals against Bay Springs. Keyes is considered by many to be the best passer in the state, but his replacement, Karson Evans, came in as relief and led the Tarters on the game-winning drive after the injury to their star.

Brookhaven High School librarian April Clopton grew up a Tarter. As a coach’s wife, she’s seen more football than most, as her husband Tommy has coached at Brookhaven High, Wesson and East Central Community College. The first conversation April and Tommy had as students at Southern Miss involved him bragging about beating Taylorsville in the playoffs when he played at Wesson.

“Taylorsville is a farming community and the school is so tight-knit with K-12 being on the same campus,” said Clopton. “Both of my younger brothers were on championship teams while they were in school. My brother Jeremiah was part of a class that finished 44-1 in their high school careers while winning two championships. My brother Nathan was on the 1998 title team. When Taylorsville wins a state championship, it’s not just the school who does it, it’s the entire town. It’s nothing more than a wide spot in the road and a four-way stop, but on Friday nights in the fall, the entire community comes out to support the Tarters.”

Class 5A – West Point (13-1) vs. West Jones (12-2)

There are lots of places in Mississippi that boast of being “Title Town,” but West Point is one of the few that can actually hold that crown.

West Point has won nine state titles and is second only to South Panola (11) in that category.

The West Point Green Wave are gunning for their third straight championship on Saturday in the 7 p.m. finale.

They’ll be facing a West Jones team that is the Cinderella of the state after defeating unbeaten Hattiesburg last week in the south state finals. The Mustangs are anchored by Alabama commit Byron Young at defensive end.

Brookhaven High coach Tucker Peavey has great familiarity with the West Jones program that is playing for a state title for the first time in school history.

Peavey has coached against West Jones for a number of years, but he has also recruited their players to Southern Miss and Southwest Mississippi Community College during his career on the college level. He considers Mustang head coach Scott Pierson to be a friend.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect of Coach Pierson and the program that he’s built at West Jones,” said Peavey. “I thought that with such a strong front four on defense, they’d be able to give Hattiesburg problems. West Point will be favored, but West Jones is so well-coached, and after beating Hattiesburg, I don’t think anyone will count them out.”

The games can be seen locally on the station MeTV, WAPT channel 16.2. The channel can be accessed using an antenna or HD tuner.

The games can also be heard statewide on Mississippi Public Broadcasting radio and are streamed online at for a fee.

The games were once broadcast statewide on MPB television for all too easily enjoy. However, the MHSAA stopped that practice because it made too much sense.

Story by Cliff Furr