Both Hattiesburg and Petal high schools got a taste of the 2017 season ahead during a few quarters worth of jamboree football.
Now, both the Tigers and the Panthers are ready for the real thing, and the teams will square off in one of the Pine Belt’s most anticipated games of the opening weekend of high school football.
“I’m just anxious to play somebody,” Petal coach Marcus Boyles said. “It’s really hard to evaluate yourselves without playing someone. So, I’m really anxious to see where we’re at.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces, starting, and playing more zone defense than anywhere, so I’m really anxious to see how those guys are going to respond (Saturday) night.”
Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said playing the jamboree offered an opportunity for the Tigers to get a feel for the task ahead.
“That’s why we did it, so when those bright lights come on Saturday night it won’t be like a deer in the headlights,” Vance said. “It was just two quarters, but hopefully, they got those pregame jitters out of the way, and they’re just ready to execute the game plan and play at a high level.”
Petal lost its top two running backs from 2016 as well as three of its five starting offensive linemen, but the Panthers welcome back senior Jordan Wilson, who took over at starting quarterback late in 2016, as well as top targets Natorian and Nataurean Watts and Nic Russell.
“I told our team, we won’t go against a better-coached team all year and probably won’t go up against wideouts any better than theirs all year,” Vance said. “The quarterback is an athlete, and offensively, they’ve got a lot of experience coming back.
“Defensively, they lost some guys over there, but they’ve still got some playmakers. Swap those wideouts over to DBs in the secondary, and you’ve got some instant athletes.”
Hattiesburg lost starting quarterback Julian Conner and receiver Jordan Murphy from a high-powered offense, but returns running backs Fabian Franklin and Drexlan Allen, receivers D’Andre Humbles, Darius Ruffin and Raheem Willis and four of five offensive linemen.
The defense welcomes back eight starters, including six of the front seven and two cornerbacks.
“They’re really, really fast, really physical and Coach Vance does a great job of coaching,” Boyles said. “It’s going to be a great test for us, but I think we’ll know a lot more about our team after (Saturday) night.”
Vance said Petal has the Tigers’ full attention.
“They’re going to pose a challenge, not only for us, but for everybody they play,” Vance said. “And that’s the fun of it. That’s high school football. You open the season against a formidable opponent like Petal, you know what you’re in for.”