Ole Brook Panthers to host East Central in 5A opening round

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, November 10, 2021

King Field is ready for playoff football as the Brookhaven High Panthers are set to entertain the East Central Hornets Friday in a MHSAA 5A first round game.

It’ll be the first home playoff game for BHS since the 2017 season and the Panthers didn’t earn the right to host until the final regular season football game in the entire state finished up Saturday night.

That’s when Laurel hosted Hattiesburg High in the 100th meeting of the schools that play for a trophy known as “The Little Brown Jug.”

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Ole Brook football fans were cheering for Laurel to win that game and the Golden Tornadoes didn’t disappoint as they decimated their rivals from Hattiesburg by a 50-0 margin.

The final regular season standings for Region 3-5A had West Jones (8-2) on top of the division with a 6-1 record — the Mustangs will host Gautier (7-3) in the first round.

Brookhaven, Hattiesburg and Laurel all ended with 5-2 records and the Panthers owned the tie breaker after beating Laurel 24-12 on Oct. 1 and HHS 32-14 on Oct. 15.

Hattiesburg (5-6) will travel to Picayune (10-1) for a first-round game Friday. Laurel (7-3) finished as the third placed team in the region and they’ll be on the road Friday at George County (7-4).

Picayune went unbeaten in Region 4-5A with a 7-0 record, the only loss of the season for the Maroon Tide came at 6A D’Iberville (10-1).

No one in the division played Picayune closer than East Central though as the Hornets lost 28-14 at home on Oct. 8. East Central led 7-0 at halftime before Picayune rebounded with a pair of third quarter scores.

EC and Brookhaven High have met once before and it was also a first round 4A playoff game, a 21-7 win for the Panthers on the road in 2002, coach Tucker Peavey’s first year at the school.

Eric Collins is the second-year head coach for East Central. He took over in Hurley after former coach Seth Smith was hired to fill the same role at Pearl River Community College.

The Hornets were 8-3 last season and this year have losses to Picayune, George County (47-29) and at 6A Biloxi (28-14) in the season opener.

One thing that the Brookhaven High defense can’t allow is for Deuce to get loose.

East Central senior quarterback Deuce Hugger is an elusive 5-foot-8, 150-pound athlete for the Hornets that drives the offense. Junior running back Eli Smith is also one of the leaders of the ECHS offense.

Both teams have speed on defense and who controls the line of scrimmage will decide who wins the game. East Central may pass the ball now more than they did under Smith’s leadership, but they’ll still be a majority run team.

The presence of senior nose guard Caleb Harris in the middle of the BHS defense will be a huge deterrent to the East Central run game.

Playing behind a big, physical offensive line, BHS has seen its rushing attack become stronger and stronger each week as the Panthers finished with a 6-3 regular season record in 2021.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.