Taylorsville, MS (WDAM) - One year ago, the football teams of Collins and Taylorsville high schools found themselves in unfamiliar positions.
The Tartars won only four games, slipping into the Class 2A playoffs only to lose in the first round and log the school's first losing record in a dozen years.
The Tigers, who were coming off consecutive Class 3A state championships, won just two games and were on the sidelines at the end of the regular season.
One year later, the two meet for the opportunity to play for a state championship, thanks in large part to the talents of the young guns each has behind center this season.
Collins (12-2), which lost its first two games of the regular season by a combined five points before commencing a 12-game tear, will visit Taylorsville (13-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 2A South State final.
"Taylorsville's a very good team," Collins coach Eric Booth said. "We know that. But we're a good team, too. It's going to be a good game."
If the two offenses play up to expectations, it ought to be a barn burner.
"We played them last year, and they had everybody coming back (this year), so we kind of have an idea of what they've got," Taylorsville coach Chuck Robertson said shortly after the Tartars had dispatched North Forrest High School 49-14 in a South State semifinal.
Taylorsville opened the playoffs with a 47-7 win over Bogue Chitto High School before avenging its only loss of the season with a 24-19 victory over Perry Central High School.
Collins also opened the playoffs with a one-sided, 47-14 victory over Pelahatchie High School before toughing out victories over Heidelberg and Bay Springs high schools.
The Tigers led the Oilers 17-12 at halftime and 25-12 after three quarters, just enough to weather a fourth-quarter touchdown by Heidelberg. During the regular season, Collins had edged the Oilers 19-16.
Collins and Bay Springs fought through a scoreless first half and were tied 8-8 after three quarters before scoring twice in the final period to subdue the Bulldogs.
"I know our kids are going to play hard until the end the horn sounds," Booth said. "We had those games with Bay Springs, with Heidelberg. Our kids have battle-tested. Our kids know how to finish."
Collins sophomore quarterback Hershey McLaurin has been in the midst of the Tigers' offense. McLaurin has completed 60.2 percent of his passes (139-of-231) for 2,872 yards and 37 touchdowns with four interceptions. He also has rushed for 345 yards and six more scores.
A trio of juniors, Markel McLaurin, Cyril Graves and Zyrion Thompson, provide big-play weapons. Markel McLaurin also has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.
"Collins always has athletes, always has good players," Robertson said. "If they won that (Region 8-2A) because we just finished just playing those two guys (Perry Central and North Forrest), then they must be pretty special."
Taylorsville quarterback Ty Keyes has not looked like a freshman. Keyes has completed nearly two-thirds of his pass attempts (66.4 percent) for 3,856 yards and 38 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He also has rushed for 479 yards and seven scores.
"If you saw him six months ago, you wouldn't say that," Robertson said. "But he's put in the time, every day at practice, after practice, and he's just gotten better and better. I'm proud of him."
Senior running back Tycarious Roberts has provided a boost to the Tartars' running game, rushing for 114 yards against Perry Central and then gouging North Forrest for 173 and three touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff 72 yards for a score against the Eagles.
"These last two weeks have been his best weeks since he's been there," Robertson said. "He's really stepped up and accepted the challenge. He's running the ball very hard and after first contact, he's getting two and three and four extra yards."
Four receivers have gone for at least seven touchdowns and more than 650 yards. Senior Perry Keyes has a team-high 67 catches for 1,180 yards and 10 touchdowns and senior Malik Strickland has 34 catches for 759 yards and nine scores.
Junior Raven Arrington has caught 32 passes for 723 yards and eight touchdowns and junior Letreal Jones has 31 catches for 666 yards and seven scores.
"Two good quarterbacks," Booth said. "We've got the 10th grader making plays, they've got the ninth grader out there making plays. It's going to be fun to watch two young guys go at it.
"But it's going to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes, in all phases of the game, special teams, defense, offense, that's probably going to win the game. "