Hattiesburg, Laurel to meet in Class 5A football showdown

Hattiesburg, Laurel to meet in Class 5A football showdown

LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Another chapter is about to be written in the longest continuously-played rivalry in Mississippi high school football, and it is one that fans of both sides are likely to remember for a long time.

Hattiesburg High School (10-3) and Laurel High School (11-1) will meet in the Class 5A South State semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday "Between the Bricks" in Laurel, marking the fourth meet between the two archrivals in the past two seasons.

"It ought to be an exciting night of football," Laurel coach Todd Breland said. "We know what it's going to be like. Hattiesburg's one of the best teams in Mississippi and we feel like we're in that same category. It's going to be really good football teams…I just can't imagine this one not be talked about for a long time with such two great teams."

The two meet annually in the Battle for the Little Brown Jug Game, and in the last two years, they have met in the playoffs.

The Tigers have won the Jug the past two seasons, including handing the Golden Tornadoes their lone of the loss this year with a 31-20 victory on Aug. 27 in Hattiesburg.

But Laurel ended Hattiesburg's 2015 season in the opening round of the playoffs, and Friday's showdown will result in one team's season ending while the other will meet the Picayune-Wayne County winner in the South State title game.

"Coach Breland, we have a lot of respect for each other, and he does an outstanding job," Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. "They'll be ready to play and we'll be ready to play and it's going to be a fun, fun football game come Friday night."

Both teams feature potent offenses, with standout quarterbacks helming vertical passing games that can strike from anywhere on the field.

Hattiesburg averages 47.5 points a game and has scored at least 41 points in 12 of its 13 outings. The team that held them to its fewest points: Laurel.

The Golden Tornadoes, who have played in the South State title game the past two seasons, have averaged 40.7 points a game, including 47.5 per game over its last eight outings.

"I know we're certainly better than we were earlier in the year, and if they're still playing, I know they've gotten better as well," Breland said. "It's almost like looking in a mirror, when compared with ours, but the bottom line is, players have to make plays, and somebody's going to make plays Friday night."

Both teams are blessed with playmakers.

Laurel has relied more on an explosive passing game, averaging 259.2 yards a game through the air, complemented by a ground game that averages 161.2 yards a game.

Quarterback Tyquan Ulmer has completed 143 of 214 passes (66.8 percent) of his passes for 2,722 yards and 33 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He also leads Laurel in rushing with 799 yards and five touchdowns on 117 carries.

Ulmer did not start Laurel's first two games, but entered the game against Hattiesburg on the second series and hurt the Tigers with both his arm and his legs. He has been the starter ever since.

"That made a big difference for them and probably turned their season," Vance said. "We talk about that a lot and how much better he makes them because of his athletic ability at the quarterback position."

Dontario Drummond has been the main weapon through the air, with 63 catches for 1,286 yards and 14 touchdowns. Drummond also has returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Je'Vah Jones also has been a big-play receiver, with 33 catches for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Anthony Jones has 32 catches for 397 yards and four touchdowns.

Sophomore Michael Terrell is Laurel's lead running back with 662 yards and 12 touchdowns on 135 carries.

Terrell came up huge in the Golden Tornadoes' 35-14 victory over Stone High in last week's opening-round game of the Class 5A playoffs, rushing for 136 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries.

Hattiesburg, whose three losses have come against two Class 6A teams and an one-loss Region 4-5A foe Picayune, has just as many offense weapons.

Dual-threat quarterback Julian Conner has completed 177 of 292 of his passes (60.6 percent) for 3,118 yards and 38 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also has rushed for 536 yards and nine scores on 90 carries.

The Tigers have been more balanced offensively, averaging 257.4 yards passing and 227.8 yards rushing.

Fabian Franklin, who missed Hattiesburg's 42-14 victory over Brookhaven High School Friday in an opening-round playoff game, leads the Tigers with 927 yards and 14 touchdowns 140 carries.

Vance said he expected Franklin to be ready to roll Friday.

Complementing Franklin on the ground have been Drexlan Allen, who has run for 708 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 carries, and of late, Jarod Connor, who has gone for 373 yards and six touchdowns on 34 carries.

Jordan Murphy has led the receiving corps, grabbing 73 passes for 1,629 yards and 21 touchdowns. D'Andre Humbles has 41 catches for 558 yards and 10 touchdowns and Shakeenen West has 26 catches for 361 yards and two touchdowns.

Laurel has been the stingier defense, allowing just 16.4 points a game, while Hattiesburg has allowed 24.3 points an outing.

But the Tigers have 27 takeaways, including 16 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries, while the Golden Tornadoes have 19, including 13 interceptions and six fumble recoveries.

Breland said the winner of Friday's game just may come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes.

"The old saying, whoever turns it over and has the most penalties is probably going to lose, well, there's a reason people keep saying that because it's true," Breland said. "When you have two evenly matched teams like we have, that's going to be the key."

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