LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Friday night means football at high school stadiums across Mississippi, with the games of latter October sorting and sifting teams for the playoffs of November.
So it was to be at Laurel High School, with the Golden Tornadoes playing their final, regular-season home game "Between the Bricks" at Blair Stadium Friday against cross-county and Region 5-3A rival South Jones High School.
But the bright lights may seem a bit hooded, the live-wire hum of the crowd a bit muted, with the Laurel student body in particular and a community in general still coming to grips with another senseless death of another teenager.
Tamerick Drummond, a student at Laurel High, died just a few hours before his 17th birthday after being shot late Tuesday night. Mekel Crumbly, 18, was arrested and charged with murder.
Laurel football coach Todd Breland said he hoped that the game would provide a bright distraction to lift the somber mood, if only for a little while.
"It's a big game Friday night, with the region play and a chance to secure a (playoff) home game in the first round," Breland said. "But, I think, even more than that now, is that our city needs something positive and that's going to be our job Friday night to give it to them."
The Golden Tornadoes (7-1, 4-0 Region 5-3A) have not lost since Aug. 27, and have become an offensive juggernaut in the regional play, averaging 53 points a game to sit tied atop the region standings with Wayne County High School.
"Obviously, we're pretty pleased with that," he said. "But, really, we just try and go 1-0 every week, week-to-week. This game has no more meaning than last week or the week coming up."
Laurel could have its hands full with South Jones (7-2, 2-2), which started the season 5-0 and was 7-1 before dropping an unexpected 46-41 decision to Jackson Wingfield this past Friday.
"We didn't finish the game," South Jones coach Cory Reynolds said. "We were up 27-8, and just didn't finish."
The loss left the Braves in a three-way tie for third place in a region that sends its top four teams to the playoffs.
"We've got Laurel and Wayne County and (Jackson) Provine, and all of them are very important if we plan on getting into the playoffs," Reynolds said.
The Braves have relied on a ground-based offense, with running backs Xavier Roberts (706 yards, three touchdowns) and Ricky Boleware (599 yards, six touchdowns) and quarterback Will Mitchell (352 yards, two touchdowns) providing the bulk of the production.
Mitchell has completed 34 of 67 passes for 590 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception. Brandon Gordon has 15 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Cade Locklear also has two scores among his 10 receptions, while Roberts also has scored twice through the air.
"Coach Reynolds has got them playing really well," Breland said. "When you have success on the field, it breeds confidence, and we know they'll come in confident. They'll give us their best game. They're a very tenacious team that plays very hard, and we'll just have to match that, if not exceed it."
Laurel has been led by double-threat senior quarterback Tyquan Ulmer, who has completed 94 of 139 passes for 1,609 yards and 21 touchdowns with four interceptions.
Ulmer also leads the Tornadoes in rushing with 411 yards and three touchdowns, while Michael Terrell has netted 384 yards and five touchdowns.
Ulmer's favorite target has been Dontario Drummond, who has 42 catches for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. He also has thrown a touchdown pass.
"They lost guys last year, and I think some thought there was going to be a dropoff, but I think they're even better this year," Reynolds said. "Drummond and Ulmer stepped up and made that thing better. They're scary. They're very, very fast."
And many will remain stung by the loss of a classmate, a former teammate, a friend.
Breland said Tamerick Drummond had played football "up to this year," but had decided to sit out his junior season.
"He played for me two years, and for whatever reasons, teenagers sometimes take a little time off," Breland said. "But, he was coming back to us in the spring."
That is until Tuesday night.
Breland said Tamerick Drummond always would be considered part of the Laurel family.
"You've got to understand," Breland said. "This community is so close-knit, and it's like I tell the kids, 'Once a Tornado, always a Tornado,' so we're always going to claim him. He was out there every Friday night with us on the field, just supporting us. Great kid."
And Breland said he has no doubts that the Golden Tornadoes will be ready Friday night.
"They're going to respond," he said. "This place...Look, our (2014) championship rings have the word 'family' and basketball rings say 'family,' and we say it every day and mean it. Our kids will respond the way they need to and accept the responsibility they've got Friday night."