HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Ever since becoming Region 4-5A football foes, Hattiesburg and Picayune high schools have been involved in a trio of the high-scoring, back-and-forth contests.
Nobody is expecting anything different when the region leaders meet at 7 p.m. today at D.I. Patrick Stadium.
“This will be the biggest one we’ve played all year, as far I’m concerned,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said.
The teams have followed different offensive paths to repeatedly reach the same the destination: the end zone.
The unbeaten Tigers (8-0, 4-0 Region 4-5A) use a diverse offense that delivers the big play to average 46.3 points per game over the season and 51.2 points per game in four region games.
Under long-time Coach Dodd Lee, Picayune (6-2, 4-0) is as subtle as a punch in the nose on offense. The Maroon Tide averages 399 yards rushing per game and only 25.4 yards passing whiles averaging 38.6 points per game over the season and 53.8 points per game in region play.
“There’re not any secrets to what they are going to do,” Vance said. “It becomes a matter of bowing up and being physical enough to stop them, make tackles and doing what it takes to get their offense off the field and get your offense on the field.”
Neither team did much of that in a classic barnburner in Picayune last season. HHS came up with a turnover in the fourth quarter and its lone defensive stand of the game to secure a 41-37 victory that helped propel the Tigers to the region championship.
“I don’t think either team punted in that game last year,” Vance said. “We got a turnover right at the end and went down and scored game-winner.
“But all three games that we’ve played, this is going to be the fourth time we’ll have played, and all three have come down to almost the last possession.
Three years ago, scored in the last 5 seconds of the game to claim a 28-27 victory. In 2016, the Maroon Tide lead by eight in the fourth quarter and then held off the Tigers, who were throwing in Picayune’s end zone on the last few downs of the game.
“So, you can probably expect something different this year,” Vance said.
Despite the differences, both teams feature prolific ground games, though Hattiesburg keeps the ball in the hands of the few the majority of the time.
The Tigers have averaged 7.3 yards per carry this season, with 15 players accounting for at least one rish attempt. But only fur HHS players have tallied 20 carries this season.
Senior quarterback Jarod Conner, like last season, has proved to be a dual threat, passing and rushing for 1,000 yards over the first eight games.
Conner has completed 52.6 percent of his passes for 1,383 yards and 12 touchdowns with two interceptions. He also has run for 1,007 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Senior Drexlan Allen has averaged 8.2 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns, including 13 on the ground. Allen needs 205 yards to join Conner at the 1,000-yard mark.
Senior Darius Ruffin has been Conner’s favorite target in the passing game, hauling in 35 passes for 795 yards and eight scores.
Picayune has had 14 players carry the football, and nine have rushed for at least 100 yards on the season.
A pair of seniors provides a one-two punch, with Jortin Raine running for 1,529 yards and six touchdowns on 176 carries and Jaire Travis rushing for 513 yards and 10 touchdowns on 67 carries.
Junior quarterback Jakail Myers has completed 10-of-24 passes for 249 yards and two scores while adding 88 yards and seven touchdowns on 26 carries. Junior Kade Turnage has run for 243 yards and five touchdowns on 32 carries.
Vance said he and the Tigers were looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd.
“We went down there the last two years in a row, so having home-field advantage is going to be huge for us,” Vance said. “It gives us another opportunity to defend our home turf and take pride playing at home.”