HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Even if it were horseshoes or checkers, put teams from Oak Grove High School across from Petal High School and the competition will be fierce.
While the long-time rivalry reached another level in baseball long ago, that intensity has been matched on the football field, especially now with the schools slotted in the same region.
"It's a rivalry game, and now that we're in the same (region), it makes it even more important," Petal coach Marcus Boyles said.
Friday, the rivalry will be renewed when Petal (2-3, 0-1 Region 3-6A) visits Oak Grove (4-1, 1-0) at 7 p.m.
"This is going to be a good one," Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. "You've got to offenses that can score and two defenses that can shut people down, so it should be a lot of fun."
Petal will be fighting to prevent an 0-2 start in a region that also features the likes of perennial muscle-programs like Pearl, Brandon and Meridian high schools.
The Panthers limited Pearl to less than 300 yards total offense and trailed just 7-3 in the fourth quarter before falling 14-3 to the state's top-ranked public school team.
"I thought our kids played with great effort," Boyles said. "Obviously, you'd love to win a football game, but tip your hat to Pearl. They made a couple more plays than we did.
"The big thing now is trying to even that (region) record at 1-1."
Oak Grove's defense was stingier as the Warriors opened 3-6A play with a 17-7 road win at George County High School.
The Rebels managed just 62 yards total offense, as the Oak Grove defense posted 22 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks. Defensive ends Jack Harris and Jaden Crumedy had four sacks apiece and cornerback Jarius Reimonenq intercepted four passes.
Junior quarterback Jon Rhys Plumlee, who did not play in the Warriors' lone loss of the season on Sept. 8 against Hattiesburg High School, returned from an injury to the thumb on his non-throwing hand to spark the Warriors to two touchdowns in the second half against a stout George County defense.
"He's wearing a cast on his left hand to protect that thumb, but he's full go," Causey said. "He hadn't done a whole lot in three weeks since (Sept. 1 against) Laurel, so I expected him to be rusty.
"But he's got the rust knocked off, and he'll be ready to go (this) week."
Plumlee has made Warriors' offensive engine hum, completing 44 of 63 passes for 657 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions. He also has rushed for 250 yards and seven touchdowns on 27 carries.
Seniors Orlando Simon (440 yards, two touchdowns) and Tyler Taylor (164 yards, two touchdowns) and Harris (109 yards, two touchdowns) have powered the ground game, while junior Kevin Barnett (28 catches, 442 yards, six touchdowns) has been the main weapon in the passing game.
"Offensively, they've got weapons," Boyles said. "Obviously, it starts with their quarterback, Plumlee, who will be, by far, the best athlete that we've played so far. You've got Barnett at receiver and you've got a really good running back (Simon), so, offensively, they've got all the pieces."
Petal, which played a bruising opening schedule that included Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Laurel and New Orleans Brother Martin and Pearl, has its share of offensive gusto, averaging 366.6 yards total offense a game.
Senior Jordan Wilson has thrown for more than 1,100 yards in five games, with seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Senior Nataurean Watts has taken the feature role at running back, with 507 yards and five touchdowns rushing, including three, 100-yard games. He also has caught 22 passes for 271 yards and two more scores.
His twin, Natorian Watts, leads the Panthers with 25 catches for 510 yards and five touchdowns, while three other Panthers, seniors Nicholas Russell and Marquise Bridges and junior Trent Williams, each have caught at least 10 passes.
"We'll have a couple of good drives, but the big thing that we're looking for offensively is consistency," Boyles said.