Brookhaven High faces old, familiar foe in Laurel High in 5A football second round

Published 10:00 am Friday, November 17, 2023

From 1928 until 1971, the Brookhaven High Panthers and the Laurel High Golden Tornadoes met every single season on the football field. The rivalry is an old one and the record books will tell you that LHS holds a 43-20 advantage all-time in head-to-head matchups between the schools.

The second round of the 2023 MHSAA 5A playoffs is the setting for the next meeting between the proud programs as they’ll kick off tonight at 7 p.m. in historic Watkins Stadium at Laurel High.

It’s not an easy place to win for any visiting team as the painted, brick bleachers that ring the stadium make it one of the most recognizable high school football venues in the state.

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Brookhaven High and Laurel have been on-and-off again members of the same region over the last decade. You’ll have to go back deep in the rivalry, most likely to sometime in the 1970s, to find the last time BHS won at Laurel High.

The Golden Tornadoes beat BHS 7-6 last season in Laurel. They also won in Watkins Stadium over BHS in 2019 (29-6), 2018 (20-0), 2017 (26-22 in 5A second round), 2015 (62-14) and 2003 (20-16).

Laurel won state titles in 2014, 2007 and 1990 seasons.

If you look on paper and see that Laurel is 6-6 this season, you might think that the Golden Tornadoes are down in talent this year.

That’s not exactly the case though as LHS has played a tough schedule filled with some tight losses.

They lost 24-16 to their rivals from West Jones in the season opener. 6A West Jones is currently 11-0.

They lost 26-23 to Jefferson Davis County, a team that’s playing in the 3A quarterfinals this weekend.

The Golden Tornadoes also lost to 6A Hattiesburg High, 7A Oak Grove and dropped a 28-26 game to McComb High.

The biggest surprise was a 45-28 loss to Wayne County (3-8) in region play, but Laurel still finished in first place in Region 4-5A.

Freshman running back ZyQuez Moffet scored three rushing touchdowns for Laurel last week in a 43-6 home win over Provine in the 5A first round.

Senior defensive back Anthony Rogers is another leader for Laurel as is 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior offensive lineman Jeremiah Keyhea. Both of them have been selected to play in the upcoming MAC Bernard Blackwell All-Star Game.

It’s been up front along the line, especially on the offensive side, where Laurel has long flexed its strength. Defensively, when Laurel is good, it’s because they have tons of guys that can run to the ball.

Being fast to pursue the football is an identity the Brookhaven High defense has been able to hang its hat on in 2023.

Over the last six games, a streak where BHS has gone 5-1 with a lone 24-21 loss to Florence, the Panther defense is allowing the opposition to score just 12 points per game.

They ate up Vancleave High last week in the first round, a 55-7 victory for BHS (7-4) on the friendly confines of King Field.

Senior defensive back Nathan Lewis led the Panthers with 11 tackles in the win last week. Senior defensive tackle Eric Williams made nine tackles, sophomore linebacker Durrell Washington had eight tackles and senior defensive back Kenan Quinn added six tackles.

Williams, Devontavious Drummond, Christian Jones and Gaylon Gayten have made a formidable front-four on the defensive line this season for coordinator Corey McLaurin.

Quinn and junior Jamaal Brown each scored a defensive touchdown last week for the Panthers in the win over Vancleave.

Offensively against Vancleave, the Panthers were paced by another standout showing from senior running back Xavier Gayten.

Gayten carried the ball 16 times for 250 yards. He averaged 15.6 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. A toe injury had Gayten walking with a limp as he came back to the sideline after each of those scoring jaunts.

On the season, Gayten has rushed 196 times for 1,858 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Senior center Bryce Ashley was the most experienced returnee on the offensive line this season and he’s captained a unit that’s improved throughout the year.

Senior Marreo Williams starts at left tackle and lines up beside sophomore Fabian Washington at left guard. Junior Colt Piper starts at right guard and sets up alongside sophomore Zach Richardson at right tackle.

Sophomore quarterback Dreamus Harron also had a rushing score last week against Vancleave.

The Panthers haven’t passed the ball much in 2023, especially during the stretch of the season where Harron missed time with an injury.

Sophomore Jeremy Bibbs leads the team with 14 receptions. Junior Samarion Buckley has added 12 catches and senior tight end Bryce Smith is third on the team with 10 catches.

Taking care of the football is always important, but never more during the playoffs. BHS has lost 10 fumbles this season and thrown seven interceptions. On the flip side, the Panthers have picked off four passes and recovered 10 fumbles.

Laurel High is coached by fourth year head coach Ryan Earnest. Earnest won back-to-back 3A state titles at Collins in 2014-2015 before leaving to coach at Ridgeland High for three seasons.

The win over Vancleave last week was career playoff victory no. 15 for BHS head coach Tucker Peavey, who’s in his second stint leading the program. A homecoming win over Provine earlier this season was career victory no. 100 for Peavey all-time at his alma mater.

The winner of this matchup will play next in the 5A South State Championship against the winner between Gautier High (7-4) and Florence High (8-4).