HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - For the past few years, Hattiesburg and Oak Grove high schools have squared off in some rock-‘em-sock-‘em, high-scoring and highly entertaining football games.
Most are expecting more of the same at 7 p.m. Friday night, when the pair of Pine Belt powerhouses resume their cross-town rivalry at Warrior Field.
“It ought to be a fun game,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “I think everybody’s probably looking forward to it.”
For a second consecutive season, the Class 6A Warriors and Class 5A Tigers come into the match-up undefeated, each sporting 3-0 records.
Oak Grove opened the season with a win over Lamar County Class 4A rival Purvis High School before collecting road wins at Class 5A Wayne County and Laurel high schools.
The Tigers opened with home wins over Class 6A Petal High School and archrival Laurel before heading out on the road last Friday to down Class 4A Moss Point High School.
“I think both teams are pretty much in the same boat as they were last year,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “But I also think that each year, the expectations for both programs rises.”
Both teams have unleashed potent offenses against their opponents, putting pressure not only on other teams’ defenses to try and slow them down, but also on other teams’ offenses to try and keep up.
The Warriors have averaged 42 points and 448 yards total offense a game. The Tigers have averaged 41.3 points and 402 yards total offense a game.
Both are led by dynamic, play-making senior quarterbacks.
Oak Grove’s John Rhys Plumlee, a University of Georgia commitment, has connected on 77.2 percent of his passes (44-of-57) for 641 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. He also has averaged 10 yards per carry, rushing 18 times for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
Hattiesburg’s Jarod Conner, a University of Memphis commitment, has hit 50.6 percent of his pass attempts (27-of-54) for 352 yards and a touchdown and an interception. He has run for 431 yards and eight touchdowns on 65 carries.
“I think this is going to be one of those games where the quarterbacks are going to dictate the flow of the game,” Vance said. “Theirs is one of the best ones in the state and I don’t think ours is bad either.”
Hattiesburg senior Drexlan Allen has rushed for 335 yards and five touchdowns, including four scores against Moss Point. Senior Darius Ruffin has caught 12 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.
“They look like the same talented football team we seem to play every year,” Causey said. “They’ve got a good defense, and are just a really good overall football team.
“There’s a reason they have lost once in their last 19 or 20 contests. They’re going to be tough to beat.”
Oak Grove’s passing game has been without top returning receiver Kevin Barnett (leg injury) for all three games and junior Brandon Hayes missed last week after injuring a lower leg against Wayne County.
But senior tight ends Tyson Keys and Rasaiah Ruffin have given the Warriors’ air attack a different flavor, and junior receivers Liam Breithaupt and Tavion Smith and sophomore Jordan Coleman have assumed larger roles.
“The two big tight ends are really talented and Tavion, he had a horrific knee injury as a ninth grader and he’s just getting back to what he’s capable of doing,” Causey said. “Jordan has played really well so far and Liam Breithaupt is a very solid football player at slot receiver.
Breithaupt had 10 catches last week against Laurel and leads the team with 17 receptions.
“He’s good at finding those little open areas and sitting in them, and (Plumlee’s) done a good job of getting him the football.”
Oak Grove’s running game has been manned by junior Nick Milsap (236 yards, two touchdowns), sophomore E.J. Newell (88 yards, one touchdown) and senior Jordan D’errico (80 yards, one touchdown).
“They’re a little a bit different,” Vance said. “The quarterback remains the same, but they’ve got some (different) weapons around him. They’ve got those tight ends, which they really hadn’t used a lot on the past, and they’ve still got that strong running game.
“It’s somewhat different but not totally different. We’re just going to have to be ready.”