LUMBERTON, MS (WDAM) - When Lumberton and Taylorsville high schools signed a two-year deal to fill a mutual hole in one another’s football schedules, few likely were expecting the immediate bang the series would offer.
Last year, Taylorsville’s then-freshman quarterback Ty Keyes cemented his status as something special, throwing for 408 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another score as the Tartars handed the Panthers a 48-22 loss.
Taylorsville jumped out to a 35-8 halftime lead and Lumberton never could catch up in game that generated more than 1,000 yards total offense.
The matchup potentially provides even more intrigue this season.
When the teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday in Lumberton, the game will have two of the state’s top sophomores performing with a pair of powerful offenses in a contest featuring two of the Pine Belt’s last four unbeaten high school football squads.
“I think it’s an interesting game,” Lumberton coach Zach Jones said. “Everybody knows the history of Taylorsville, the history of Lumberton, and there’s a lot of history between the two.
“Both our teams, I think, plan on making playoff runs and this is a good chance to see where you are and see where you need to get batter. It’s a challenge, the toughest one we’ve faced.”
The Class 1A Panthers (6-0), who average 398.5 yards total offense a game, rely on a running game that has produced 316.2 yards a game on the ground.
Sophomore Robert Henry has run for 933 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 155.5 yards a game. Senior Davion Edwards has run for 469 yards and eight touchdowns.
Quarterback Jared Tribett doesn’t have gaudy numbers (47.5 completion rate; 494 yards passing four touchdowns), but has been working with a crop of receivers learning their trade on the fly this season.
Tribett also has contributed to the ground game, running for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
“I wouldn’t trade Jared Tribett for anyone in the state,” Jones said. “He’s a winner, he does things the right way. I’m glad he’s our quarterback and he’s a big reason we’ve had the success we’ve had over the last few years.”
Taylorsville coach Mitch Evans said this year’s Panthers look quite alike last year’s version.
“They’re a similar team to what they were last year,” Taylorsville coach Mitch Evans said. “They look a lot alike on film, and they’re (undefeated) as well. They’re well-coached, have a really good running back and play solid defense.”
Taylorsville (7-0) has Keyes, the engine in an offense that has averaged 444.7 total yards a game, including 313.7 yards a game through the air.
Keyes has thrown for 2,165 yards and 22 touchdowns with five interceptions, completing 66.3 percent of his passes.
“He’s not one of the best; in all my years, he’s the best,” Jones said. “He’s the real deal and we have a lot of respect for him. He tore us up last year.”
Four Tartars have at least 15 catches, led by senior Raven Arrington, who has grabbed 30 passes for 826 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore Jalon Clark, who scored three touchdowns last week against Bay Springs High School, has 24 catches for 482 yards and seven touchdowns.
Senior Chandler Cline and junior Jabez Griffith have combined 31 catches for 485 yards and a touchdown.
But Tartars also are dangerous on the ground. Kenyon Bass has run for 425 yards and four touchdowns and Keyes can tuck and go, with 148 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
“We’re more than we are pass,” Evans said. “A lot of people get caught up in (Keyes’) stats, but we attempt more runs than we do passes just about every week.
“(Bass is) a hard-nosed runner. He’s not one of those who’s going to break away, but he’s going to pound it in there and run real hard.”
Jones said Lumberton will have its hands full Friday night.
“They have really improved on defense,” Jones said, “and it looks like to me like they are just hitting their stride offensively over the course of the last couple of ballgames.
“We’re going to have to be able to run the football to have a chance,” Jones said. “It’s just that simple.”