LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) _ Laurel High School football coach Todd Breland says he usually picks up the phone to chat and pick the brain once or twice a week with his former boss and friend, Petal High School coach Marcus Boyles.
This week’s call was much blander.
Boyles’ undefeated Panthers (3-0) will trek north to visit the Golden Tornadoes (2-1) at Watkins Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Didn’t get much advice this week,” said Breland, who worked on Boyles’ staff at Wayne County High School. “But I enjoy playing Coach Boyles. I think he’s the best in the business.
“I learned a lot from him. A lot of things I do, I do it the way he did it. I’m thankful for him, thankful for the relationship.”
And would be thankful as well to pull off a win against one of his mentors.
“We’re good friends, and there’s nothing that he’s going to do or I’m going to do that’s going to surprise either of us,” Boyles said. “Laurel, between the bricks, it’s always tough over there. A lot of good athletes, a lot of speed, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Laurel opened the season with a comeback victory at Class 4A power Poplarville High School and then snapped a five-game losing streak against Hattiesburg High School to regain possession of the Lil’ Brown Jug.
Last Friday, the Golden Tornadoes visited Wayne County High School in a game marred by an anonymous, mid-week threat of gunplay.
No such action occurred, and the teams settled into a double-overtime donnybrook that the War Eagles pulled off, 21-20.
Junior quarterback Xavier Evans, who has accounted for nine touchdowns in three games, threw for two scores and ran for a third against Wayne County.
“There were a lot of distractions last week,” Breland said. “Of course, Wayne County had to deal with the same thing. The atmosphere was not what either one of us wanted.
“We played a good game, played a good football team, and in the end, they made a few more plays than we did.”
The Panthers served immediate notice coming out of the gate, controlling the second half in a 33-15 victory over Hattiesburg.
Petal followed with a spiffy, 21-6, win at Harrison Central High School before returning home this past Friday to pick up a 42-10 victory over visiting Brookhaven High School.
“Week one to week three, we’ve made a lot of strides. A loot of improvement,” Boyles said. “A lot of those kids, especially those first-year starters. They’re starting t understand what’s happening, the speed of the game.”
On offense, the Panthers have been able to turn to their senior troika of quarterback DeCarlos Nicholson and running backs Micah McGowan and Rashad Handford.
McGowan has rushed 340 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries, an average of 7.1 yards a carry. He also has a 13-yard touchdown catch.
Handford has gained 228 yards and scored touchdowns on 34 carries, a 6.8-yards-per-carry average.
All told, the Panthers are averaging 271.3 yards a game rushing,
Nicholson is hitting 56.4 percent of his passes, throwing his first touchdown passes of the season last week against Brookhaven.
“Just the luxury of having those two running backs, that’s nice to have that and know that you can run the football,” Boyles said. “The first two weeks, they really carried us, but then last week I was really pleased with DeCarlos and our receivers. I thought we had a great game throwing the football and we needed that.”
Over the past four seasons, the teams have split the outcomes, with three of the four games decided by two points or less.
Breland said he is expecting that kind of close game again this year
“They are a veteran group, well-coached,” Breland said. “We know going into this game, we can’t make mistakes.
“Being a young football team, over the first few games, we’ve made so many mistakes, mostly little things, but I told the team (Wednesday), this will be the perfect gamer for us, because we have to clean it up.
“If we don’t, we’re in trouble. If we do clean it up, we have a chance.”