South Jones High School football has been here before.
Now, Coach Cory Reynolds wants his Braves to take the next step forward.
For a third, consecutive season, South Jones stands 7-2. But the past two years, the Braves faltered down the stretch and failed to qualify for the Class 5A playoffs.
Reynolds, who has seen his Braves improve in each of his four seasons at the helm, said his team is aware of the opportunities _ and the challenges _ before it.
“It’s all up to us,” Reynolds said. “We’re sitting exactly where we’ve been the last two years, and now it’s up to us.
“This one is a big win, for a whole lot of reasons.”
“This one” is a cross-county rival game set for 7 p.m. Friday pitting West Jones High School against the home-standing Braves in showdown that will loom large in the Region 3-5A standings.
West Jones (6-2), which has won its last five games, sits atop the region standings at 4-0 with Brookhaven High School (7-1). South Jones, which dropped its regional opener with Laurel High School, has won its last three and is a game behind the co-leaders at 3-1.
The three play each other down the stretch.
After Friday, South Jones will visit Brookhaven on Oct. 27 and then host Jackson Wingfield High School (2-6 1-3) on Nov. 3 to end the regular season. West Jones hosts Wingfield on Oct. 27 before welcoming Brookhaven on Nov. 3.
Brookhaven visits Wingfield Friday before wrapping up with South Jones and at West Jones. Lurking in the wings is Laurel High School (4-4, 2-2), which hosts Forest Hill High School (1-7, 0-4) Friday, visits North Pike High School (5-3, 1-3) on Oct. 27 and finishes the regular season by hosting Natchez High School (4-4, 1-3) on Nov. 3.
West Jones, a longtime, annual playoff fixture is seeking to get back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The Mustangs have built their success this season around a clocking-killing offense, field-flipping special teams’ play and a rock-ribbed defense.
“It’s almost been a situation where we have to perfect,” West Jones coach Scott Pierson said. “Defensively, we have to be really, really good and our kicking game has been blessed where we have a really good kicker. When we have a chance to make plays (offensively), we have to make them.
“I guess it’s embracing what you are and we try to maximize that. When we have a chance to take our shots, we take our shots. But it’s been about playing solid defense and keeping the ball away from the other team.”
Junior defensive end Bryant Young leads the Mustangs defense. Of his 20 tackles, 12 have been for loss, including nine sacks. He also has been credited with two of the team’s three safeties this season.
Senior Davion Moore has 21 tackles (five for loss) with three sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble. Sophomore Antonie Kirk has picked off a pair of passes and returned a kickoff for a score and freshman Cedric Bender also has two interceptions and has returned a punt for a touchdown.
“That defense is really good, really good,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to have our hands full Friday night. We’re going to have to play one of our best games of the season to beat them.”
On offense, senior running back Austin Land has rushed for 758 yards and four touchdowns on 175 carries. Senior receiver Garrick Randolph has 23 catches for 420 yards and four touchdowns, with two scores coming in last week’s 17-7 win over Laurel.
The Mustangs have played three quarterbacks this season, with junior Dusty Cook getting the lion’s share of the work of late. Cook has completed 32-of-65 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions.
Junior Walker Thompson has hit 17-of-19 extra points and 7-of-10 field goals with a long of 39 yards.
South Jones has been led by the one-two offensive punch of junior quarterback John Mitchell and senior running back Ricky Boleware.
Mitchell has completed 68-of-146 passes for 1,084 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He also has rushed for 681 yards and a team-best 10 touchdowns on 99 carries.
“He’s a grown so much over the course of our games,” Reynolds said.
Boleware leads the team with 782 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 117 carries.
Senior Cade Locklear has 25 catches for 360 yards and five touchdowns and senior Shiwon Lovett has 16 catches for 369 yards and six touchdowns.
Lovitt also has intercepted four passes, returning two of them for touchdowns.
Sophomore place-kicker Mark Diers has made 38-of-39 extra points and six-of-seven field goals, including a long of 42 yards.
“This is a good South Jones football team,” Pierson said. “In previous years, they always played hard. Not that they outplayed you, but they played hard.
“Not this year. This year, they’re a good football team. They’re good on offense. They’re good on defense. They’re good on defense. They’re a really good football team that still plays hard. Cory and those guys have done a really good job over there. They’re a good football team, and their record indicates that.”