Collins and North Forrest high schools seemingly have been working from the same playbook this football season.
Both opened with consecutive, close losses. The Tigers dropped a 9-6 decision to Seminary High School and 22-20 to Jefferson Davis County High School. The Eagles fell 12-8 to Lumberton High School and 36-30 in overtime to Magee High School.
Today, both are among the Pine Belt’s hottest teams, each riding five game winning streaks as North Forrest (5-2) heads to Collins (5-2) for a Region 8-2A showdown at 7 p.m. Friday.
“And it’s their homecoming,” North Forrest coach Anthony Dillion said. “They’re a really good team playing really (well) right now, but it’s like I tell our guys all the time, to be the best, you have to beat the best, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Eagles opened their region schedule with a 42-7 victory this past Friday over visiting St. Patrick High School. For the Tigers, Friday’s game will be their region opener.
“It ought to be a good game,” Collins coach Eric Booth said. “They’re like us. They lost their first games close and then won five in a row.
“I know Coach Dillon, know what kind of job he does, and I know he’s going to have his team ready to play and play hard. I think it’s going to be a real good game.”
For the season, North Forrest has averaged 32.6 points and allowed 20.6 per game. Collins has averaged 29.4 points and allowed 14 per game.
During the last five games, the Eagles have scored an average of 38 points a game and allowed 19.2, while the Tigers have scored an average 36 points and allowed 13.4.
Both teams have been led by dynamic quarterbacks.
North Forrest senior Daylyn Croom has rushed for more than 400 yards and four scores and completed 55 of 95 passes for more than 650 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“And the thing with Daylyn, the kids look to him for leadership and he’s become that leader,” Dillon said. “When things get tight, and someone has to make a play, our guys look for Daylyn to make that play.”
Collins sophomore Hershey McLaurin has settled into the role as the Tigers’ quarterback. In six games, McLaurin has completed 55 of 108 passes for 1,091 yards and 20 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
He’s also rushed for 218 yards and five touchdowns on 39 carries.
“You can see how he’s grown, just getting a lot more relaxed in the pocket, reading the defense and knowing what to do with the ball,” Booth said.
Collins’ big-play offense can strike from long distance. For example, junior Markel McLaurin has 364 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 receptions and also has returned two punts for touchdowns.
“I’ve been having nightmares about (Herschel McLaurin),” Dillon said, “and he has a lot of good receivers.
“We know we’re going to have our hands full. We’ve just been getting guys motivated and excited about how big a game this is for both teams.”
Success has bred confidence in both teams.
“Oh, definitely,” Booth said. “This is my second year now, and the kids have seen what we’ve been telling them and how it can work. You start winning, and you can see the confidence just grow.”
North Forrest has been such a streak before. After a slow start in 2016, the Eagles ran the table in Region 8-2A to win the crown and earn a spot in the playoffs.
In its final season in Class 3A, Collins slipped to 2-10 in 2016, but won back-to-back state football championships in 2014-15.
“Those kids, they know how to win,” Dillon said. “We know what we’re in for, but we’re excited about the opportunity.”