LUMBERTON, Miss (WDAM) _ Zach Jones understands while the uniforms will look familiar, his Lumberton High School Panthers will be meeting an altogether different beast Friday night in the Class 1A South State championship game.
The Richton Rebels essentially have been in playoff mode since dropping a Region 4-1A decision to the Panthers on Oct. 18.
The Rebels have not lost since, winning their final regular-season games against Leake County, Mt Olive and Stringer high schools to earn a spot as the fourth seed out of Region 4-1A.
The past two weeks, Richton has picked up postseason road wins at a Region 3-1A’s top seed, West Bolivar High School, and Region 4-1A’s second seed, Resurrection Catholic High School.
“They’re executing better and playing with a whole lot of confidence right now,” Jones said. “They put a one seed and a two seed, so they should be playing with a lot of confidence.”
The Panthers (11-3), who earned a region title and top seed for the fourth consecutive season, will welcome Richton (9-5) at 7 p.m. Friday.
The winner will face the North State champion at 3 p.m. on Dec. 6 at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the University of Southern Mississippi campus for the Class 1A state football championship.
For Richton, this is all uncharted territory.
Last fall, the Rebels advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in school history. Richton never had won two postseason games to find itself playing for a South State title.
“Somebody joked the other day that I needed to bottle whatever we’re doing and sell it, and I wish I could say that it was this one thing,” Richton coach Stephen Rice said. “But I just think they’ve really bought into what we’ve told them and have just gone out and executed for us.”
Certainly, a difference maker during the Rebels’ run has been senior quarterback Dylan Farve, who has stepped into the defensive secondary as well.
Over the last five games, Farve has rushed for 10 touchdowns, two in each game, while throwing three touchdowns against one interception.
On defense, five of his six interceptions have come in the playoffs, including three in last week’s come-from-behind victory at Resurrection Catholic.
“He’s had a big impact the last couple weeks for us, for sure,” Rice said.
On the season, Farve has thrown for 1,000 yards (1,098 yards) and rushed for 1,000 yards (1,193 yards).
Senior Malcolm Hinton has topped 1,000 total yards, rushing for 853 yards and nine touchdowns, while grabbing 22 passes for 227 yards and two more scores. Seniors Braxton Brewer (390 yards, 22 catches, six TDs) and Brennen Shattles (376 yards, 34 catches, 2 TDs).
The Rebels will have to contend with a Lumberton program that has posted double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive season. The Panthers are on the prowl for their first Class 1A state championship game appearance since 2016.
“They’ve been really hungry to get back,” Jones said. “We’ve gotten beat in the second round that last two years, but this group, this (playing for a South State title) is one of their goals, this is what they wanted to do and they’ve worked really hard to get here.”
The Panthers have produced a ground game that has churned out 3,564 yards and 50 touchdowns in 14 games.
Junior Robert Henry, Lumberton’s offensive triggerman, has rushed for nearly 1,700 yards (1,688 yards) and 27 touchdowns. He also has completed 40 of 70 passes for 827 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions.
Sophomore Shavante Toney has been a backfield mainstay with 779 yards and 11 touchdowns, while junior K’nylan Willis has topped the receiving corps with 30 catches for 772 yards and eight touchdowns.
Rice said Richton intends to try and put its best game on the field Friday and let the chips fall where they may.
“We’ve tried to explain to them that we weren’t supposed to be here, so we really have nothing to lose,” Rice said. “They get to be kind of calm and don’t have to worry about the pressure of, ‘Oh, you’re supposed to win a state championship.’
“After we lost to both Lumberton and Resurrection the first time, we just kind of laid it out to them, and said, ‘Hey, look guys, this is what we’ve got to do to keep playing and make it into the playoffs, and each week with these guys, they’ve gotten a little more experience, and we’ve gotten better.”