MHSAA will crown seven 2023 state champions this week in Oxford

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The 2023 MHSAA football state championships will be held beginning Thursday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. Here’s a look at who’ll be vying for a state title this week in the championship matchups.

Thursday, 4 p.m.

Class 1A

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Biggersville (11-1) vs.

Velma Jackson (13-0)

When the MHSAA reclassification numbers came out a year ago, you probably thought Velma Jackson would have a chance to make it this far, as the Falcons were a 3A school for 38 years, before spending the last two previous seasons as a 2A member and then dropping this year to the 1A ranks.

The numbers used for that most recent round of classifications have Velma Jackson with 151 students, which makes them the third largest school in 1A behind East Marion and our local Enterprise Yellow Jackets.

Biggersville, with its 120 students, is a school with a strong athletic tradition, but it’s best known for basketball success. In 2022, the Lions swept both the 1A titles in girls’ and boys’ basketball.

They also lost in the 2020 1A football state title game by six points to Lumberton. Last week Biggersville beat a previously unbeaten Vardaman team 41-21. The lone loss of the season for BHS was a 32-21 defeat to 3A Nettleton.

Biggersville linebacker Fred Clark is committed to next play at Mississippi State.

The Velma Jackson Falcons reached the state championship by beating East Marion 39-0, South Delta 40-8, Resurrection Catholic 40-13 and Taylorsville 44-22 last week in the state semifinals.

Taylorsville led Velma Jackson 22-6 after the first quarter on Friday. VJ then went on to score 38 unanswered points as the comeback was led by senior running back Gavin Griffin. Griffin was recently named MAC 1A Mr. Football and he finished the semifinal win with 263 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

Neither Velma Jackson, located in Camden in Madison County, nor Biggersville, located outside Corinth, have ever won a football state title.

Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

Class 5A

West Point (10-3) vs.

Laurel (8-6)

Set your watch by it, West Point is playing for another state title. The Green Wave are a powerhouse program that won four straight titles between 2016-2019 and have won 11 state title overall, which has them tied for South Panola and Louisville for the most all-time.

It is a little jarring to see the Green Wave come into a championship game with a whopping three losses, but West Point always plays a loaded schedule. This season they’ve been bested by 4A finalist Louisville, 7A finalist Starkville and Clarksdale High.

West Point avenged that 27-21 regular season loss to Clarksdale by beating their district rivals 21-14 in the semifinals last weekend.

This is the third time Laurel and West Point will meet in a championship game. The Green Wave bested the Golden Tornados 3-0 in 1988 and 29-8 in 2016.

Laurel beat Brookhaven High 31-28 in the quarterfinals and then defeated Gautier 31-10 on Friday in the semifinals. The Golden Tornados find themselves trying to win a fourth state title in program history after starting the 2023 season with a 1-5 record.

And yes, West Point is still using a punishing rushing game to grind its opponents into dust. The Green Wave have thrown five touchdowns this season and rushed for 52 combined touchdowns and 4,227 yards thus far.

Senior running back Kahnen Daniels of West Point was recently named MAC Mr. Football for the 5A ranks and is committed to next play at the University of Florida. The Green Wave also have a defensive lineman, Zay Lowery, that’s committed to play next at Southern Miss.

Friday, 4 p.m.

Class 2A

Charleston (12-2) vs. Heidelberg (11-3)

The 16-6 win by Heidelberg over Raleigh in the semifinals on Friday gave the Oilers a state title berth for the first time in school history.

The only time Heidelberg was in the news last year was when former head football coach Jim Nowell got into a fight in the stands at an early season game played at Wayne County High School. Nowell was there watching the War Eagles play Quitman High and he charged at a Wayne County fan after words were exchanged.

Pictures and videos of the bloody faced Nowell, wearing a Heidelberg football shirt, went viral and led to him losing his job. The Oilers went 5-7 last season but have now won more games since the 1994 team finished 13-1.

Charleston High, located in Tallahatchie County, won its only state title in 2011. The Tigers are perennial contenders though as they lost to Scott Central in the 2022 2A title game. Charleston also dropped 3A title game matchups in 2012 (lost 21-20 to Hazlehurst), 2014 (lost 28-20 to Collins), 2015 (lost 34-32 to Collins) and 2016 (lost 12-8 to Kemper County).

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Class 6A

Grenada (11-3) vs.

West Jones (13-0)

In the first year that Mississippi has played football in classes 1A through 7A, it’s sort of fitting that the Grenada Chargers would make the 6A championship game. Grenada was one of the schools leading the charge for the MHSAA to add the 7A classification that would further spread-out member schools across the classes.

GHS was the second smallest 6A school in the old system, with an enrollment of 1,057 students. The biggest 6A school during that period was Tupelo High, with almost 1,000 more students at 1,907 enrolled.

Grenada reported an enrollment of 783 students in the latest reclassification and during that process, West Jones was bumped up to the new 6A ranks after being a long time 5A school.

West Jones has rolled through much of its competition this season and had little trouble with Picayune High last week in the semifinals as the Mustangs won 42-13 on the road.

West Jones is trying to win its second state title, the Mustangs won their first in 2020.

Grenada began the playoffs as the scourge of Warren County as they beat Vicksburg High 37-8 in the first round and Warren Central 24-7 in the quarterfinals. Last week in the semifinals, Grenada beat South Panola 33-21. It was a nice bounce back after South Panola had beaten the Chargers 28-7 in the regular season finale a month earlier.

Aaron Travis, a 6-foot-6 defensive lineman from Grenada, is committed to Southern Miss.

Saturday, 12 p.m.

Class 4A

Louisville (14-0) vs. Columbia (14-0)

It feels inappropriate that a clash of two titans of this level would kick off the first game on Saturday morning. The pairing of the unbeaten Louisville Wildcats and the unbeaten Columbia Wildcats deserves the bright lights of being the featured matchup of the day.

Columbia High coach Chip Bilderback has built a powerhouse in Marion County. Bilderback is 69-11 in six years and he’s 18-4 in the postseason during that time. His 2021 team finished 13-1 and won the school’s first state title since 1982 by defeating Senatobia High 22-21.

Shockingly, these schools have not met on the field since Harry Truman was in the White House. Louisville won 18-6 when they last played in 1951 and hold a 3-1 advantage all-time in the series.

Last week in the semifinals, Columbia had its closest game of the season, a 28-21 win over Poplarville. 

Louisville and coach Tyrone Shorter are trying to win the 12th state title in school history. This season LHS beat 5A finalist West Point 35-13, 7A finalist Starkville 26-22 and 3A finalist Noxubee County 7-6.

Shorter led Louisville to a 4A title in 2020 and again last season with a 17-14 triumph over Mendenhall. Shorter is a combined 62-8 overall, 18-2 in the postseason, since taking over for legendary Louisville head coach M.C. Miller in 2019.

Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Class 3A

Winona (14-0) vs.

Noxubee County (10-4)

Winona High School began playing football in 1905, but the Tigers have never hoisted a state title trophy. To do that this weekend, they’ll have to get past a Noxubee High program that’s won five state championships in its proud history.

WHS has been very good of late, winning 95 games in the last 10 combined seasons for head coach Joey Tompkins. In 2020, Winona made the semifinals and lost 50-7 to Noxubee County. Winona also made the 2A finals in 2017 where they lost 41-26 to Taylorsville High.

This season Winona is led by quarterback Chase Richardson. The MAC 3A Mr. Football, Richardson has thrown for over 1,700 yards this season and rushed for nearly 1,000 more. The Tigers also have a massive senior offensive lineman in TJ Lockhart. The 6-foot-6, 365-pound Lockhart is verbally committed to Mississippi State.

Winona won the last meeting between the schools, 36-8, in the second round of the 2021 playoffs.

As always, Noxubee County is battle tested as the Wildcats have played their traditionally strong schedule. NCHS lost 49-18 to 7A finalist Starkville, 50-40 to 5A finalist West Point and 7-6 to 4A finalist Louisville.

Noxubee County beat South Pike 35-6 in the first round of the playoffs, Saint Stanislaus 49-14 in the second round, Jefferson Davis County 29-22 in the quarterfinals and Jefferson County 36-14 in Fayette on Friday in the 3A semifinals.

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Class 7A

Starkville (10-3) vs.

Oak Grove (12-1)

The finale of the weekend will feature a quarterback dual between two decorated signal-callers in the first 7A title game in Magnolia State history.

Starkville quarterback Trey Petty clocks in at 6-foot-1 and 190-pounds. Petty is committed to next play at the University of Illinois. Petty led the Starkville Yellow Jackets to a 6A state title last season and was named MAC 7A Mr. Football this year as a senior.

Oak Grove senior quarterback A.J. Maddox has a similar build to Petty as he also stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 170-pounds. Maddox is committed to Texas A&M and picked the Aggies over offers from Penn State, Mississippi State, Miami, Louisville and Alabama among others.

Maddox passed for 353 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 83 yards and three more scores on Friday in a 49-45 semifinal win over Brandon. One of Maddox’s favorite targets is receiver PJ Woodland, who’s committed to LSU as a defensive back.

Both rosters are stocked with future college football players. Oak Grove defensive linemen Caleb Moore and Jalen Owens are both committed to Southern Miss. Starkville wide receiver and defensive back Braylon Burnside is one of the top uncommitted players in the state and will likely make his college choice between MSU and Ole Miss.

Starkville lost 26-22 to 4A finalist Louisville, 34-33 at Germantown and then 36-6 to Tupelo in the regular season finale. The Jackets beat Southaven 44-0 in the first round, Oxford High 20-0 in the quarterfinals and Madison Central 35-15 in the semifinals on Friday.

The semifinal win over Brandon was payback for Oak Grove as Brandon was the only team to beat the Warriors in the regular season (38-20). The Warriors won twice in overtime during the regular season against Hoover High of Alabama (28-21) and Madison-Ridgeland Academy (45-44).

Oak Grove won a 6A state title in 2020. This is the first ever meeting between Starkville High and Oak Grove.