PETAL, Miss. (WDAM) - Most coaches will try and convince an observer that no game on a schedule is more than another and every game is a big game because it’s the next one on the schedule.
But there are just some games that are immediately circled by fans when the schedule comes out, that coaches know they won’t have to say a word all week, unless it’s to pull back their players' emotions from getting away from them.
The Battle for the Lil' Brown Jug between Hattiesburg and Laurel. The Columbia-West Marion-East Marion round robin. The Simpson County Super Bowl featuring Magee and Mendenhall. Perry Central-Richton. Forrest County AHS-Purvis.
Then, there’s the showdown of Oak Grove and Petal high schools, a fierce rivalry born on the baseball diamond that donned shoulder pads and helmets.
The Forrest County foes meet again at 7 p.m. Friday, when the unbeaten Warriors (3-0) travel cross county to visit their Region 3-6A rival Panthers (2-2).
“I think it’s both,” said Petal coach Marcus Boyles when asked whether the rivalry or the region make the annual game such an anticipated event. "It’s a rivalry game, and that makes it big in itself. Then, you add on top of that that it’s a region game, it makes the game just a little bit bigger.
“We’re sitting here 0-1 in the region and they’re 1-0, so we want to even our record and they want to go to 2-0. There’s a lot to play for for both teams.”
Oak Grove is among those sitting atop the standings after the first week of Region 3-6A play following a 59-24 victory over George County High School.
Petal came back from Pearl High School bearing a tough 42-39 loss at the hands of the Pirates.
The Warriors have torn through all three of their games behind an offense that is averaging 60 points a game and a defense that has made more big stops than it has allowed big plays.
“Defensively, we’re going to give up some big plays at times, and we know that,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. "At times, somebody’s going to pop something on us.
“But we’re going to make a lot of big plays, tackles for losses, things like that. We’re going to get a lot of sacks. I think that evens out. I think it’s hard with what we do for somebody to just march the ball down the field.”
And it’s been even more difficult for opponents to keep Oak Grove out of the end zone.
First-year quarterback Kabe Barnett has been a masterful manager of the offense, with 12 touchdowns to one interception in three games. Against George County, Barnett threw for five touchdowns in three quarters of work.
The passing game has been balanced by a running game that is averaging 206 yards a game behind twin battering rams Courtland Harris (202 yards, three touchdowns) and Eugene Newell Jr. (199 yards, two touchdowns).
Junior Tyrell Pollard, who caught three touchdowns last week, has five scoring catches on the season.
Pollard has 249 yards on 11 catches, while senior Jordan Coleman has six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Petal also features a first-year starter at quarterback, senior Allen Jackson, who has been even more prolific for the Panthers than Barnett for the Warriors.
Petal is averaging 275.3 yards through the air, with Jackson completing 58.5 percent of his passes for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns with one interception through four games.
Jackson has benefited from a trio of senior receivers in Jonathan Harris (17 catches, 423 yards, six touchdowns), Jeremiah Robinson (22 catches, 379 yards, two touchdowns) and Micah Cherry (nine catches, 105 yards).
Robinson has pulled double duty, comprising a trio of ballcarriers in the backfield that also includes senior and leading rusher Darian Washington (174 yards, three touchdowns) and sophomore Ryan Poole.
“Our running game is not where we want it, but it’s getting there,” Boyles said.
Petal’s defense, which had to replace eight starters, also is rounding into shape, despite allowing a season-high 42 points last week.
“The kids, they’ve played hard, but at times, we haven’t executed like we should have,” Boyles said. “But as far as the attitude of the kids, the way they’ve competed, I’ve been very pleased with that. I sure have.”
Causey said he is sure of what he and the Warriors are going to see Friday night,
“They’ve got a really good football team,” Causey said. "They’re extremely-well-coached. It’s just a normal Petal, a really-well coached football team.
“They’re throwing the ball really well and they’ve got three wideouts that can really go, so it’s going to be a huge challenge ...We’re going to have to be locked in and really focused on what we have to do.”