BAY SPRINGS, Miss. (WDAM) - When the 2020 football schedules for Mississippi high schools first appeared this summer, there was no provision for a late-October, Bay Springs-Laurel contest.
In fact, in the annals of the two high schools, no such football game had been played.
“We’ve never played before, to be honest with you,” Bay Springs coach Dan Brady said.
That will change come 7 p.m. Friday, when Laurel visits Bay Springs.
Though the two are situated less than 25 miles apart, given the population difference, only rarely would one think to see a school from a much smaller classification step up to play a much larger school.
But in the season of COVID-19, the norm has been anything but normal,
Just a few weeks ago, Class 2A Taylorsville High School slipped down U.S. 15 to take on Class 5A West Jones High School. It was a one-score game in the fourth quarter before the Mustangs prevailed in the end.
“I know there’s a discrepancy from a classification standpoint, but I just believe with programs like Bay Springs, when you do things the right way, you can play with anybody,” Laurel coach Ryan Earnest said. "I think it’s a great opportunity for both schools. In proximity, they’re very close. A lot of our fans know each other, so there’s some familiarity from a fans' standpoint.
“(Bay Springs), they’re a perennial contender in their classification, and I think Dan Brady does a phenomenal job. So, we know the team that we’re playing is going to be well-coached, is going to play hard and going to do it the right way.”
Both teams have similar philosophies: control the ball on the ground offensively while sporting a rock-ribbed defense.
Laurel turned its season around when it welcomed back running back/offensive catalyst Xavier Evans from sprained knee ligaments
Since returning, Evans has rushed for 811 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in four wins.
“One man does not a team make?” Earnest said, laughing. "Try telling that to the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s or the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers.
"We have some great football players on our team, no doubt, but Xavier Evans, he’s just built from a different mold. He’s the straw that stirs our drink. The thing with Xavier, is he can do so many things. We can play him at running back, at quarterback, at receiver. "
The Bulldogs take a more running back-by-committee approach. So, while Ty Jones may be the leading rusher (278 yards in four games), Chase Wilson and LaMarcus Stubbs are going to get their share of the carries as well.
“We want to run the football, just like they do,” Brady said.
Normally, neither team even would have the opportunity to play one another at this point in the season.
Laurel (4-3, 4-0 Region 3-5A) would be playing the penultimate game of its region schedule before wrapping up its regular season on Nov, 6.
Bay Springs (2-4, 1-3 Region 5-2A) would be playing its region finale, with the opening games of the Class 2A playoffs taking place on Nov. 6.
But COVID-19 jumbled the schedules from the start, with most high schools lopping the first two games from their schedules to accommodate a state-wide decision to push the start of the season into September.
Then came the quarantines and the postponements, the cancellations and the forfeits.
It not only played bedlam with school schedules, but created situations like Friday’s, where teams were picking up conceded victories at the same time they were playing game picked up on the fly.
“We needed another game,” Brady said. “It really was a simple as that.”
Instead, both teams will be playing their final regular-season games Friday, with the Bulldogs actually stepping onto a football field for just the fifth time this season.
Bay Springs will head into the Class 2A playoffs as a four seed out of Region 5-2A. Laurel has another open week before it finds out who it will face as the top seed out of Region 3-5A.
“We needed this game,” Brady said. "We needed to play.
“Win or lose, this game is going to make us better.”