WAYNESBORO, MS (WDAM) - The football beasts of Waynesboro have awoken, but will face a team that has played much like its moniker for the majority of the season.
At stake: the Region 3-5A championship.
The Wayne County High School War Eagles (6-4, 6-0) have shook off a slow start against a tough, opening schedule, and have not lost since opening region play.
They will welcome the Laurel High School Golden Tornadoes (9-1, 6-0), who have not lost since August, whirling their way to eight, consecutive victories.
The two will meet at 7 p.m. Friday.
The War Eagles, which dropped games against Vicksburg, Oak Grove, Meridian and Archbishop Rummel to start the season, have clinched a spot in the Class 5A playoffs and a home game in next week's opening round of the postseason.
In other words, life has returned to normal in Waynesboro, where fall means playoff football. The War Eagles have won three, state championships since 2003, the most recent just last year.
"The expectations here are, of course, to win, and while those expectations are probably one of those things that helped us get through those tough times, there was also the realization that we had to mature and grow up," Wayne County coach Todd Mangum said. "Persevering and continuing to play hard, we've done that, just coaches coaching and players playing."
Laurel also has been a fall playoff perennial, with two state crowns since 2007.
The two have met four times in the past two seasons, with the Golden Tornadoes taking both regular-season meetings, and the teams splitting victories in the South State championship game.
Laurel went on to win a state title in 2014, Wayne County in 2015.
"This is where you want to be at the end, and we have the opportunity to capture a regional championship, and they have the same opportunity," Laurel coach Todd Breland said. "We obviously know how the game has gone the past two years, and it ought to be another fun one (Friday) night."
The teams provide a contrast in offensive styles.
Led by running backs Chris Cooley and Schadarious Chambers and quarterback Zabryan Jackson, the War Eagles have averaged nearly 220 yards rushing a game.
Cooley has run for 802 yards and nine touchdowns on 171 carries, with Chambers running for 644 yards and nine touchdowns on 93 carries and Jackson adding 572 yards and five scores on 90 carries.
Jackson has thrown for 504 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. Four of the scores have gone to Will Mangum, the War Eagles' leading receiver with 268 yards on 18 catches.
Laurel has run the ball effectively, averaging more than 150 yards rushing a game, but favors a wide-open, vertical passing game.
Quarterback Tyquan Ulmer has been a dual threat, throwing for 2,200 yards and 29 touchdowns with just four interceptions, while leading the Tornadoes with 590 yards rushing with four touchdowns.
Dontario Drummond has 51 catches for 970 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Je'vah Jones has caught 28 passes for 685 yards and 11 scores. Anthony Jones ranks third on the receiving list, hauling in 27 catches for 331 yards and four touchdowns.
Michael Terrell has been the bull out of the backfield, rushing for 467 yards and seven touchdowns on 106 carries.
"We're different football teams, offensively, obviously," Breland said. "But the results are the same. They just go about it a different way than we do. We both have had success with what we do."
While Friday night will decide region bragging rights, Mangum said Wayne County will continue to try and do what it has done for the past 11 weeks: get better each game.
"It is a big game," Magnum said. "But we want to try and stay grounded, because you're only as good as your next game. We just take 'em one at a time, and while this just happens to be the last, regular-season game, it's also for number one in the region."
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