Lance Mancuso knows plenty about winning football.
In his nine seasons at Bassfield High School, the Yellowjackets played for the South State football championship eight times and went on to win five Class 2A state crowns, including four consecutive titles from 2012-15.
Bassfield High is no more, merging with Prentiss High School this fall to form Jefferson Davis County High School.
As JDCHS’s athletic director, Mancuso has overseen the merger of the new school’s athletic programs.
As the Jaguars’ head football coach, Mancuso has continued to build winners.
Class 3A Jefferson Davis County will carry a four-game winning streak into a Region 8-3A contest when the Jaguars (7-1, 2-0) host Columbia High School (3-4, 1-1) at the old Bassfield High football stadium.
“It has been surprising, the level that they’ve been able to play together at,” Mancuso said of the Prentiss/Bassfield blend. “Most high schools, the kids have been playing together since pee-wee (football), so for this group to come together and play together like they have, it has been a surprise.
“But the kids, they’ve adapted well to a new challenge and new environment. I guess we shouldn’t second guess our youth, but, yes, we’ve been happily surprised.”
Youth has been the byword for the Wildcats, who have played a bevy of underclassmen throughout the starting lineups on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve watched them gain experience, but when you start seven 10th graders on offense and about six on defense, you have to live with the good and the bad,” Columbia coach James Harvey said.
Columbia also switched to a new starting quarterback two weeks ago following an off week, with junior Javen Moses taking the reins and helping the Wildcats snap a three-game losing streak with a 47-27 win over Wesson High School to open region play.
Last week, the Wildcats went on the road and dropped a 30-20 decision at Tylertown High School.
Despite a bevy of early-season injuries, including a season-ending ankle injury to starting running back Ricky Griffith, JDCHS started the year 3-0 before falling at unbeaten Class 4A East Central High School.
Since then, the Jaguars have outscored their opponents 168-59, including a 43-14 over Tylertown High School and 41-0 over West Marion High School in region play the past two weeks.
Against West Marion, six different players scored touchdowns.
“We’ve had a lot of guys who have contributed this year,” Mancuso said. “We just haven’t had that one dominant player. Ever since that first week when our starting tailback, Ricky Griffith, got hurt and was out for the season, it’s kind of been a backfield by committee.
“Each week, it’s kind of been somebody else who had stepped up. I’ve been extremely proud of the team effort and the way they’ve unselfish throughout the year.”
After Friday, just two region contests remain on each of the schedules of Region 8-3A’s five teams before the opening round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
“This game could really put us in a great position,” Mancusco said. “Obviously, if we win Friday night, we’re pretty much guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, so that’s a big incentive to go out and play very well.”
Harvey said the Wildcats are well aware what’s at stake.
“We’ve got three games left, all (region) games, so every one of those is important,” Harvey said. “These are the games that really count.”