PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Coaches like to say that the most important game is simply the next game on the schedule.
But then there is contests like Friday's Region 3-6A football game between Oak Grove and Petal high schools, a non-violent Hatfield-McCoy feud that would extend to jacks or jump rope if so deemed.
"It's always been a big rivalry, even when I was in high school," Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. "It doesn't matter. Heck, little league baseball was always a big rivalry. It doesn't matter what the sport is."
In this case, the outcome of the 7 p.m. kickoff well could factor into the pecking order of playoff teams coming out of the region.
Last week, both schools opened 3-6A play with victories, with Oak Grove (3-3, 1-0) rolling past visiting Forest Hill 41-22, while Petal (3-2, 1-0) came out of its bye week to take a 28-14 win at Pearl.
"In our (region), every Friday is a big game," Petal coach Marcus Boyles said. "But there's no denying that with Petal-Oak Grove, our kids and their kids, they get excited, and obviously, both student sections will be pumped up for this one."
The Warriors have gotten the better of Petal the past three seasons, something the Panthers are keenly aware of, Boyles said.
"We've talked to our kids about that, and if we want to have better luck this time, as coaches, we need to prepare better, and as kids, we need to have a better week of practice," Boyles said. "We'll need to play with a lot better effort and intensity than we have the last three years."
Week-to-week inconsistency early in the season has plagued both clubs, with Petal swapping wins and losses in alternate week and Oak Grove dropping three of its first four games.
But the Warriors have won their past two games, and will have sophomore John Rhys Plumlee back under center.
Plumlee, who has thrown for 365 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 173 yards and three scores, missed the Forest Hill game because of a concussion suffered a week earlier in a win over Hattiesburg.
"Right now, John Rhys is our starter and Tanner Slay is our backup, and he's done a great job when he's gotten in there," Causey said. "We feel like we've got two guys who can lead our offense and do a good for us back there."
Whoever is back there will have a full array of weapons, including running backs Orlando Simon (406 yards, four touchdowns) and Dwayne Lee (484 total yards, five touchdowns) and receivers Kevin Barnett (360 yards, three touchdowns) and Charles Hartfield (224 yards, two touchdowns).
Boyles said he expects the Panthers to have their paws full, but has liked the way his defense played last week.
"Our defense played really well and kept out team in the game," Boyles said.
On offense, Petal has relied primarily on the trio of running back Stephon Huderson (765 yards, six touchdowns), quarterback Tanner Estill (14 touchdowns accounted for) and receiver Natorian Watts.
"They've got a lot of athletes and some really great players," Causey said. "You've got to do a really great job of playing assignment football. I know we're not going to stop them, but you have to play assignment football to be able to slow them down a little bit. But our defensive front has been playing great. Last week, we had three defensive linemen who had over 10 tackles. We're expecting a lot out of those guys to control the line of scrimmage, to do their jobs and make everybody else's job easier."
Turnovers have been Petal's bugaboo this season, and Boyles said giveaways will play a critical role Friday night.
"It's a conversation that we have with our kids all the time and something that we'll continue to address," Boyles said. "We tell them all the time, if we can end every possession with some kind of kick, whether it be a punt, field goal or PAT, we're probably going to win the football game. When you turn the ball over, whether it be through fumble or interception, more than likely, you're going to get beat."
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