HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Under the muted glare of banked stadium light, on an eventual misty and moonless night, a hors d'oeuvres of high school football whetted a long-lingering appetite for the sport's reappearance in the Pine Belt.
While for most, the official start to the 2016 prep season is set for next week, a number of teams across the region participated in "jamborees," a hybrid between a controlled, intra-squad scrimmage and a regular game.
Friday night at Warrior Stadium in Oak Grove, four teams squared off in eight quarters of football that not only served as a measuring stick of each team's progress and promise, but also offered an opportunity to crack pads with another wearing a different helmet and jersey.
"To me, this is the best way to do it because you get a lot kids in," Oak Grove High coach Drew Causey said. "We've got 110 kids on our roster and we tried to get every one of them in (Friday night).
"To come out injury free, that's all you can ask for."
The Warriors lined up against the Purvis High School Tornadoes, with the junior varsities of each school taking the first two quarters and the varsities playing in the final two periods.
Earlier in the evening, Perry Central and Vancleave similarly had split their quarters between their respective junior varsities and varsities.
Offenses were fed the ball in 10-play entrees. Score in two plays, you still have eight more snaps. Make a first down on play No. 10, the opposing offense still takes the field.
Kickoffs were simulated, as well as punts, with no tackling, no returning.
The final few minutes were devoted to field-goal attempts, which didn't go on the scoreboard, but will be scrutinized in today's various film rooms as intently as any other snap on the evening.
"It's not a real ballgame, but it's an opportunity to play and it gives us a chance to evaluate on film and see where we have to go from here," Purvis coach Perry Wheat said. "It gives us an opportunity to get cranked up and be aggressive.
"You know you're going to make mistakes early on, and that kind of stuff, but it's a chance to hopefully get in a groove and be aggressive and do what we do, which is usually run the football."
So, of course, Purvis would score its first touchdown of the unofficial 2016 season on a deft, 32-yard pass down the left sideline between quarterback Ty Howell and receiver T.J. Bolar.
In fact, all three scores between the Oak Grove-Purvis varsities came via pass.
Oak Grove's Max Crawford, who got the starting nod Friday in a three-way, 1-A/1-B/1-C quarterback race between he, Tanner Slay and Payton Harris, got the Warriors in the end zone with two passes: a 50-yard catch-and-romp swing pass to Charles Hartfield followed by a 15-yard zip-line shot to Kevin Barnett on a sharp slant.
The Warriors added a second score late in the second, 12-miunte quarter, when Harris rolled to his right and found Zach Smith just inside the pylon in the front corner of the end zone.
Soon after, players shook hands, coaches exchanged best wishes and the teams parted knowing a little more about themselves.
"It was a typical first game, a lot of mistakes," said Perry Central coach Chip Bilderback, who watched George Bolton score on a 15-yard run as his varsity Bulldogs tied Vancleave's bulldogs 7-7.
"But the effort was good. The kids played hard, and that's what you want."