PURVIS, MS (WDAM) - Shannon White and Perry Wheat will find themselves along opposite wings of a grassy and lime-lined stage as the curtain opens Friday night on a five-week drama that will decide whether their football teams will have the opportunity to potentially play for a Class 4A state football championship.
And this particular first act of Region 7-4A play pits a pair of Lamar County rivals against one another, with Sumrall High School (4-2) visiting Purvis High School (2-3) at 7 p.m. Friday.
"It's the first region game and there's a little bit of a rivalry there, so that ought to test us pretty good," Wheat said.
The teams wrapped up non-region play last week, with the Tornadoes snapping a two-game slide with a rock-ribbed, 12-7 win over visiting Seminary High School. The Bobcats saw a four-game winning streak snapped, losing a 10-point halftime lead on their way to a 34-29 loss to visiting Pass Christian High School.
"You know, in a close ballgame, it always comes down to a couple plays, and that's what happened to us," White said. "To me, it was us, but I'm sure they would say it was them. It depends on which coach you talk to.
"Bottom line, we didn't play the same two halves."
Purvis started the season with a home loss to another Lamar County rival, Class 6A power Oak Grove High School before picking up its first win of the season against Class 3A West Marion High School.
A bevy of turnovers contributed to a road loss at Columbia Academy, but Wheat said the Tornadoes played better in a loss at Class 4A Mendenhall High School before grinding out last week's win against Class 3A Seminary.
"We lost to Mendenhall, but I thought we made progress in that game," Wheat said. "We played hard, and then last week, we didn't play great, but we found a way to win, so I'm hoping we're getting better."
Not surprisingly with a Wheat-coached team, Purvis relies on a ground game that has averaged 198.4 yards a game. Senior John Bolton has been the primary focus, rushing for 500 yards and six touchdowns with four, 100-yard rushing games this season.
Senior quarterback Ty Howell has gained 368 yards and scored four times in four games, but has thrown for 368 yards and one touchdown.
Injuries have hurt the Tornadoes. Purvis lost senior placekicker Steven Anderson after two games to a season-ending knee injury, and senior receiver C.J. Bolar (194 yards, 14 catches, one touchdown) sat out the Seminary game with a banged-up ankle but is expected to play Friday.
White said the Tornadoes look very much like the team he has come to expect after facing them for the past decade in coaching stints at North Forrest High School and Sumrall.
"I think this year more so than most years, Purvis looks like Purvis to me," White said. "They've still got big linemen and they're very physical. They're well-coached and don't make a lot of mistakes.
"The quarterback is playing better and they've got a top receiver out there in Bolar. They've got a good team. They really do. They just look like Purvis to me."
Sumrall, which will be seeking its first win over the Tornadoes in nearly a decade, has averaged 384 total yards a game.
Sumrall dropped its season opener with Class 4A South Jones High School, but after inserting junior Billy Garrity at quarterback and sliding junior Dannis Jackson from quarterback out to the receiver post he excelled at in 2016, the Bobcats took off.
Sumrall reeled off wins against Class 1A Sacred Heart High School, Class 2A Enterprise and Richton high schools and Class 3A Wesson before falling to Class 4A Pass Christian.
Garrity has completed 57 of 106 passes for 1,039 yards in his five starts with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has rushed for 285 yards and three scores.
Jackson, who also has returned a kickoff for a touchdown, has been the engine of the passing game, with 32 catches for 666 yards and six touchdowns. He has averaged 151.7 all-purpose yards a game.
Three running backs have gone for more than 210 yards, led by junior Ty'rek Preston with 453 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries. Sophomore Gabriel Cocroft has 273 yards and four scores on 36 carries, while senior Derrick Lemieux has gained 218 yards on 56 carries with five touchdowns.
"They've got a good team," Wheat said. "It's going to be an important game for both us, and, hopefully, we can come out, play hard and get a win."