So far, unbeaten Class 4A Poplarville High School has split its football season between playing laughers and nailbiters.
Poplarville head coach Jay Beech is expecting more of the latter Friday night when the Hornet head north up Interstate 59 to take on Class 2A Heidelberg High School.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“They have playmakers on offense, are athletic on defense, and I just think they’re really good,” Beech said of the Oilers. “They’re just a really good football team.”
Poplarville (4-0) will be playing a second, consecutive road game after opening with three straight at home. The Hornets will wrap up a non-Region 7-4A schedule studded with a trio of Class 5A opponents _ Picayune High School (27-24), Pearl River Central High School (42-6) and Stone High School (20-14) _ and traditional Class 3A power, Seminary High School (47-0).
The Hornets have scored an average 34 points a game.
“They’re a well-coached bunch,” Heidelberg coach Darius Dear said. “They get after you. They play hard-nosed football in between the hashes and they execute.”
Last year, Poplarville made it to the Class 4A state championship game before falling 27-12 to North State champion, Lafayette High School. Dear said this edition of the Hornets is just as tough and just as focused.
“The thing that stands out to me about them is that they don’t make any mistakes,” Dear said. “They minimize mistakes, so you’ve got to be a good football team to beat a team that doesn’t make mistakes.”
Heidelberg (3-1) will continue a pre-Region 5-2A schedule that included wins over Class 5A Jackson Wingfield High School (30-0), Class 1A Lumberton High School (20-18) and Class 3A Wilkinson County High School (34-0). The lone loss came at Southeast Lauderdale High School (31-28) in the season’s second week.
“Actually, the game we lost we played great in the second half,” Dear said. “We made a couple of errors down the stretch that cost us, but really, for four, straight weeks, we’ve played some pretty good football.
“We’ve gotten better every week and shown improvement.”
Dear said the Oilers aspire to a fairly balanced offense, leaning 60 percent rushing, 40 percent passing.
On the other hand, Poplarville’s offense leaves little mystery. The Hornets want to run the football.
Senior running back Austin Bolton leads the ground game, averaging 167.8 yards a game. Bolton has rushed for 671 yards and 10 touchdowns on 49 carries.
Senior Roosevelt Raine has ran for 386 yards and four scores on 49 carries, junior Tyson Holston for 225 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore Cory Knight has added 65 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries.
Junior quarterback Antonio Barnes has attempted just 18 passes in four games, completing 10 for 175 yards with two interceptions.
The defenses of both teams have been stout, with the Hornets allowing just 11 points a game, while the Oilers are giving up 12.3 points a game.
Poplarville has been led by junior linebacker Ross Barnett, senior linebacker Peytan Graham and sophomore cornerback Caziah Daniels.
Barnett leads the Hornet with 53 tackles (38 solo), including four tackles for loss. Graham has made 43 tackles (19 solo), including two for loss, and has forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Daniels has 15 tackles (nine solo) with two interceptions.
The Oilers have been led by senior outside linebackers Khehlan Kennedy and Day Shawn Bounds and sophomore defensive end Javeon Jones.
Kennedy has collected 41 tackles, including five sacks, with two blocked punts and two fumble recoveries for touchdowns. Bounds has made 29 tackles including four sacks, and also has a fumble return for a touchdown. Jones has 22 tackles, including a sack.
On offense, senior quarterback Dontavious Porter has accounted for 1,068 yards total offense and 12 touchdowns. Senior Samuel Thompson has been Porter’s top receiving threats with 356 yards and three touchdowns on 14 catches.