Laurel High School coach Todd Breland would not be considered a greedy man, except, of course, when it comes to the final score on a football field.
This weekend, that hunger for victory is only magnified.
Laurel will welcome Hattiesburg High School at 7 p.m. Saturday “Between the Bricks” of Blair Stadium in the 96th edition of the “Battle for the Lil’ Brown Jug.”
In the past two seasons, the Golden Tornadoes have advanced in the Class 5A football playoffs at the expense of the Tigers, defeating them in the heat of November’s one-and-done postseason.
But when it comes to Mississippi’s longest, continuously-played high school football rivalry, Hattiesburg has prevailed the past three years.
So, the bottom line Saturday is simple: Hattiesburg has The Jug; Laurel wants it.
“People will bring up this week, ‘Hey, you got ‘em in the playoffs last year,’” Breland said. “Well, we want The Jug. We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years to get them in the playoffs, but we want The Jug.”
Naturally, Hattiesburg has every intention of hanging onto a prize that has been up for grabs since 1922.
Should the Tigers (1-0) win, it would mean an entire class would have roamed through the halls and locker room of Hattiesburg High with The Jug safely tucked into its trophy case.
“It’s another rivalry game, but it’s just such a different game,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “Both our communities take a lot of pride in the outcome. We tell our kids, ‘You can say that you were part of the team that won The Jug.’
“It’s a big game and we’re excited.”
That the teams have collided the past two postseasons only raises the stakes in a rivalry that has such deep roots in the two cities.
“If you’ve ever lived in Laurel or Hattiesburg, you know what a big deal it is,” Breland said. “There was a period of time that maybe people across the state thought the rivalry was dead, but with the success that we’ve had and the success that Hattiesburg’s had, I think across the state, they’re paying a little more attention to it.
“But for our community and their community, it’s never died down. It’s been big for both us forever. There’re more eyes looking across the state at it because of the success that we’ve both had.”
That success continued in the 2017 season openers, as both teams secured road wins.
The Tigers (1-0) ventured across the Leaf River and secured a 43-37 victory at Petal High School. Junior Jarod Conner threw for one touchdown and ran for another in his debut as Hattiesburg’s quarterback and the Tigers picked off three Petal passes, with senior Raykill Ducksworth returning his 87 yards late in the third quarter for what turned out to be the game-winning points.
Vance said the Tigers are looking to build on the momentum of the big win.
“Last week’s game was last week’s game, but we’re hoping to make a big jump in execution between week one and two,” Vance said. “That’s what we’re looking for as coaches.”
Laurel (1-0) traveled to Jackson last Friday and came away with a 24-12 victory over Callaway High School.
In his first game with the Golden Tornadoes, junior running back Zias Perryman rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while freshman quarterback Xavier Evans debuted with a touchdown pass.
“Physically, we just got after them,” Breland said. “It was a great team effort.”
But both Vance and Breland said Saturday night will be a completely different football game.
“It’s fantastic because if you watch our kids on the field, it’s one of the most bitter rivalries in the state, and the kids are going to play hard and play with a great effort, but they’re also going to play with a lot of sportsmanship,” Breland said. “It’s a great, clean rivalry, just what high school football should be like.”