SOSO, MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - The Class 5A football playoffs won't start for another week.
But the showdown at 7 p.m. Friday at West Jones High School ought to provide one heck of a preview of coming events when the Mustangs (8-2, 6-0 Region 3-5A) welcome Brookhaven High School (9-1, 6-0).
"The way we look at it this starts the playoffs one week early for us," West Jones coach Scott Pierson said. "What it does, and not in exact terms, but it lets you start preparing to play against a team that's going to be in the playoffs, so it's really like a first-round playoff game for us.
"But the good thing is, if you don't play well (Friday), you get to have a do-over. When the playoffs start, if you drop the ball, you're out. But this week, you get to play a high-quality opponent, like a playoff game, in a playoff-like atmosphere, and even if you stub your toe, whether you're Brookhaven or West Jones, it doesn't bury you. Which is good, because usually this time of year, it does bury you."
The Mustangs will appear in the postseason for the first time in three seasons, and like the Panthers, already have clinched home turf for at least the first-round of the playoffs.
After dropping two of its first three games, West Jones has won seven in a row. Brookhaven has reeled off nine consecutive wins since a season-opening loss on Aug. 18 to Class 6A powerhouse Pearl High School.
Friday's winner clinches the region championship.
"It's always been difficult to win a region title," Brookhaven coach Tommy Clopton said. "Region 3-5A has always been tough.
"But beyond that, there's been a lot of big games in the past between West Jones and Brookhaven, and should you win (Friday), you would get that number one seed in the playoffs. Then, you have the opportunity to get extra home games if you're fortunate enough to keep winning, which is huge come playoff time."
Both teams feature ground-based offenses. Senior Austin Land leads West Jones with 918 yards and six touchdowns on 213 carries.
Brookhaven has a one-two backfield punch with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in senior Damarrell Leggett (1,030 yards and 16 touchdowns on 108 carries) and sophomore Jaquaris Edwards (1,134 yards and 13 touchdowns on 129 carries).
"It's allowed us to keep a fresh one in the ballgame and that's a luxury that not everyone has," Clopton said. "Damararell Leggett is the senior, but nobody really knew about Edwards. It's kind of just depended on who had the hot hand on a given night and how things were going."
The Panthers own the more prolific passing game. Brookhaven senior quarterback Sevante Quinn has completed 74-of-136 passes for 1,181 yards and 18 touchdowns with six interceptions.
Junior John Hilbert has caught 24 passes for 408 yards and eight touchdowns and senior Don Blando has 25 catches for 319 yards and five scores. Leggett is a threat out of the backfield, with six catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
The Panthers have averaged 42 points a game. In six region contests, Brookhaven is scoring at a 44.8 points-a-game clip.
Three different players have started behind center for the Mustangs, with junior Dusty Cook taking the reins pretty much fulltime about a month ago. Cook has completed 38-of-75 passes for 532 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions.
Senior Garrick Randolph leads the Mustangs' receiving corps with 28 receptions for 485 yards and four touchdowns and senior Devrion Hatten has 18 catches for 206 yards and two scores.
Junior defensive ends Byron Young and (13 sacks) and Jonmicah Coleman (three sacks, three fumble recoveries) and senior outside linebacker Davion Moore (three interceptions, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles) lead a West Jones defense that had allowed 14.9 points a game this season, including a pair of shutouts.
The Mustangs have been even stingier since starting region play, allowing just 11 points a game, while the West Jones offense has averaged 30.1 points.
Senior noseguard Jeffery Johnson (56 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles), sophomore defensive back Byrion Robinson (58 tackles, two interceptions, seven pass breakups, four forced fumbles) and junior outside linebacker D.J. Durr (58 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception) lead a Panthers' defensive unit that has allowed 20.4 points game this season and 20.8 points a game in region play.
Both teams feature solid special teams. West Jones junior Walker Thompson has averaged 40.9 yards a punt, connected on 10-of-14 field goal attempts and made 20-of-22 extra point tries. Sophomore defensive back Antoine Kirk has returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns.
Brookhaven senior Tyler Mixon has made 5-of-8 field goal attempts and 56-of-57 extra point attempts.
"It's two very good football teams, two very, very similar football teams," Clopton said. "I have all the respect in the world for Coach Pierson and his staff and the job they've done. They play very hard. They're sound in what they do.
"They've not given up a lot of points and we've been scoring points, so people will say it's a contrast in styles. But if you watch the film, you're going to see a tremendous amount of similarities between the two teams."
Pierson said he and the Mustangs are well aware of what they are going to face Friday.
"Tommy does a good job over there coaching them and I think they've got a Dandy Dozen Player and three Division I players, but, fortunately for us, we're at home and we're playing good football," Pierson said. "So, we're excited for the challenge."