PINE BELT (WDAM) - It likely will not take long for either Seminary High School or Bassfield High School to get a pretty good gauge on just where their respective teams stand for the 2016 football season.
The cross-county rivals have made a recent habit of opening a new season against one another, and the game typically has provided a good measure of one another's mettle.
"It's been a great test for both teams," Bassfield coach Lance Mancuso said. "A good rivalry has developed between the schools. You know, they've played each other for quite some time, but now it's turned into a ballgame that both of our teams look forward to."
As far as tests go, Friday night's 7 o'clock kickoff will mark the final exam of the long-time series.
Bassfield High, which is the four-time Class 2A state football champion, is in its final school year as a separate entity. In 2017-18, Prentiss High and Bassfield will consolidate on the latter's campus, giving birth to a new school with a new name.
Seminary coach Brian Riels said an opportunity like Friday's never will come his Bulldogs' way again.
"Lance and I, we've coached together and are good friends," Rials said. "It's nothing personal, but sure would like to beat him this last time around."
Class 3A Seminary came into the summer on the upswing, with a core of young Bulldogs maturing over the past two seasons into an experienced team with a bit of depth.
Seminary particularly liked its depth in the backfield, where the Bulldogs were expected to boast one the Pine Belt's best running back tandems in seniors Javaris Crosby and Felix McCullum.
But that one-two punch apparently has been halved.
Rials said Crosby, a three-year starter at running back and linebacker, suffered a knee injury in an Aug. 12 jamboree and could be sidelined for the season.
"Obviously, it hurts our team, but you feel for him, and that's the biggest thing," Rials said. "There's a slight chance that maybe he could be back at the end, but we'll see."
If there is a silver lining, Crosby's injury could mean more game-day snaps for junior Tyveron Morgan, who had been competing with sophomore Jeff Miller to start as quarterback.
With Miller having nudged ahead in that race, Rials said Morgan will sidle into Crosby's place in the backfield.
"With Javaris out, Tyveron is going to play more running back," Rials said. "He already had been rotating in, so he'll get more snaps there now. That's going to help us."
On the other sideline, the Yellowjackets will be facing a serious lack of backfield experience, after graduating two-year starter Timothy Arnold at quarterback and three running backs who combined for 2,500 yards and 35 touchdowns last fall.
"We have a lot of question marks, offensively and defensively, who are going to get their opportunity this season," Mancuso said. "But fortunately, all of these guys have been in our program for a number of years, from middle school on up, so we have confidence in them. It's just going to be a matter of figuring out where all the pieces belong, and these first few non-district games will give us a good sense of who needs to be where and what needs to be to have a shot at a successful season."
The Yellowjackets do return its leading rusher from 2015, Ron Thompson (1,374 yards, 20 touchdowns), and Mancuso said senior Cason Smith earned the shot at filling Arnold's vacancy at quarterback.
"It'll be interesting to see how that plays out, but he's had a really good fall camp and we'll see what he's able to do as far as leading the team when we get into action," Mancuso said.
That action begins Friday in a game that should have the stands packed on both sides of the field.
"We're expecting a big crowd," Rials said. "Every time we play them, they bring a great crowd and have a great following. We've opened with Bassfield for the last four or five years, and it's a great tradition. It's just right down the road, and a lot of these kids know each other. It's like I've told them, we'll see what we've got. You want to go against the best, and you can't get much better than back-to-back-to-back-to-back state champs."
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