PETAL, MS (WDAM) - The opening month of the 2016 football season for both Petal and Laurel high schools has been, in a word, brutal.
The Class 6A Panthers (2-1) split their first two games, winning at Hattiesburg and losing at Gulfport, before returning home last week to take down George County 42-30 at Petal.
The Class 5A Golden Tornadoes (2-1) thumped visiting Quitman to open the year and then fell at Hattiesburg in the annual Lil' Brown Jug Game before returning home to defeat Oak Grove 28-14 last week.
On Friday at 7 p.m., the two will square off against one another at Panther Stadium to wrap up non-region play.
But both Petal coach Marcus Boyles and Laurel coach Todd Breland said there is a method to the seeming madness of such a front-loaded schedule.
"It kind of gets you ready for region, I know that," Boyles said, chuckling. "That's one way to look at it and put a positive spin on it."
Breland, who worked for Boyles for years at Wayne County, agreed with his mentor, saying he believed that the early, heavy lifting pays off down the road.
"We did that for a reason," Breland said. "It not only prepares us for great competition, but puts us in big-game atmospheres, so when we get to that point (in possible playoff games) later in the season, we don't get big-eyed. I just think it makes you better."
Both teams were better than good last week.
Petal senior running back Stephon Hunderson accounted for 246 yards and three touchdowns rushing and receiving to lead the Panthers past George County.
Quarterback Tanner Estill completed 11 of 19 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, both to Huderson.
Nataurean Watts (82 yards on three carries) and Xavier Thigpen (53 yards on 10 carries) also each scored a touchdown for the Panthers.
"We played really well on both sides of the ball," Boyles said. "I really thought they took care of business."
On the season, Huderson has reached the 100-yard rushing plateau in all three of Petal's games, averaging 148 yards per game. Estill has completed 21 of 38 passes for 423 yards and five touchdowns, while rushing for 279 yards and four more scores.
"No offense to the teams that we've played or are going to play, but Petal is the best team on our schedule," Breland said. "I say that because, one, I know they have some great athletes, especially at the skill positions. But they're very good up front, on both offense and defense.
"Two, they are coached by Marcus Boyles, and I know how he prepares a football team. A lot of the things that I do I learned from him."
Laurel got a huge from one of its standouts, receiver/return man Dontario Drummond, who caught 15 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the Tornadoes' win over Oak Grove.
Quarterback Tyquan Ulmer completed 23 of 35 passes for 291 yards, while receiver Anthony Jones caught six balls for 53 yards and a score.
Running back Michael Terrell led the way on the ground, rushing for 78 yards on 19 carries.
On the year, Drummond has 340 yards and three touchdowns on 34 receptions. He has also scored on a punt return and kickoff return.
Ulmer has completed 28 of 46 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He also has rushed for 146 yards and two scores.
Terrell is the Tornadoes' leading rusher, with 159 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries.
"They're a very athletic offense," Boyles said. "And it all starts with their quarterback. He's an athletic kid who can throw it and run it pretty well, and they've got a couple of really good receivers, so we're going to have our hands full."
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