LAUREL, MS (WDAM) _ Merely mention that Laurel and West Jones high schools will meet on a football field, somewhere, and, folks are going to sit up and take notice.
Slather a coating on said game, with the winner gaining an edge atop Region 3-5A, and the interest only ratchets up another notch.
Friday at 7 p.m., the Mustangs will meander five miles east to take on the Golden Tornadoes “Between the Bricks” at Blair Stadium.
“To be honest, that’s when it’s fun, when (games) matter,” West Jones coach Scott Pierson said, “and that’s what I love about a West Jones-Laurel game. It always matters.”
The Jones County rivals enter the game tied atop the 3-5A standings, each sporting a 3-0 mark since coming off open weeks before the start of region play.
After Friday, each team will have three region games left.
“We know each other so well, you don’t even have to add what’s at stake in this game,” Laurel coach Todd Breland said. “Just say it’s West and Laurel and that’s enough.”
“But we both do understand that while this is not the end-all for either team (Friday) night, it does put you in a very good position.”
Laurel (4-3) has bounced back after a rough start against a tough non-region schedule.
The Golden Tornadoes have been bolstered with the return of sophomore quarterback Xavier Evans, who suffered a high-ankle sprain in the season opener. The return of Evans, who has completed 62.1 percent of his passes in four games, allowed Laurel to move senior Sinclair Ulmer from quarterback to receiver.
Shifting Ulmer and the return of Laurel senior Jontarius Henderson (elbow injury) has thickened a relatively thin receiving corps.
“It wasn’t about what Sinclair had done or hadn’t done,” Breland said. “It was about getting our best 11 players on the field. Period.”
The Mustangs (6-1) dropped their season opener and haven’t lost since, thanks in large part to a defense that has allowed just 30 points all season, recording four shutouts in seven games.
“It’s a unique group,” Pierson said.
Sophomore Alan Follis, who took over the Mustangs’ starting reins in the second game of the season, has completed 70.1 percent of his throws including eight touchdowns against no interceptions.
“We just seem to run a little better with him under center,” Pierson said.
Laurel has continued to run the football with seniors Zias Perryman (511 yards) and Michael Terrell (337 yards) and junior Amir Smith (257 yards) sharing the workload.
But Breland said he and the Tornadoes are aware of the challenge awaiting them.
“There’s no doubt that this will be the best defensive team that we’ve played this year,” Breland said. “They’re going to be very solid.
“They’re going to do what they do on offense. They have a strong kicking game and are well-coached. It’ll be a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. We’re going to have to play well.”