Jaguars, Lions jostle for Class 3A South State crown

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 10:50 PM CST
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RALEIGH, Miss. (WDAM) - Ryan Higdon was there from the beginning.

He followed coach Lance Mancuso from Poplarville to Bassfield in 2008. After 12 years and seven state championships, Higdon took over his own program at Raleigh in 2020.

The Lions followed up a third-round playoff exit last season with a South State appearance.

On the opposite sideline, Friday night will be Jefferson Davis County - the team Raleigh put out in the first round of last year.

“It’s just like we’re going to be playing ourselves you know,” said Raleigh senior quarterback Jay Jones. “They run the exact same stuff we do – Wing-T.”

“They know what we do, we know what they do,” said Jefferson Davis senior defensive back Dedrian Alexander. “It’s going to come down to who plays the hardest.”

The Wing-T offense isn’t the only thing Higdon took away from his 15-plus years with Mancuso.

Building a championship program starts with establishing an attitude. The Lions showed their resolve last week in a 7-6 overtime win at previously-unbeaten Tylertown.

“Mainly just instilling that toughness in your football team,” Higdon said. “[Mancuso’s] always got tough football teams. They play hard and they are tough. It’s really a privilege and an honor just to be at this level and playing him in this game because his teams are here so consistently.”

“I’m extremely proud of [Higdon] and his staff and what they’re able to accomplish over there in just a short time,” Mancuso said. “I’m not surprised at all. Off the field we’re great friends but this is not about me or him. This is about these young men.”

There will be plenty of athletes to watch out for on both sides of the football field Friday night in Smith County.

The Jaguars and Lions expect a four-quarter battle.

“We played these boys last year but that was first round,” Jones said. “This determines who’s going to the Rock next week.”

“We know what’s at stake this Friday,” Alexander said. “So hopefully our guys come out and play hard.”

“They’re going to make plays and we feel like we’re going to make some plays too,” Higdon said. “We’re just going to have to play hard each and every down. We’re not going to be able to take a break because they’re not.”

“What I see is a huge challenge,” Mancuso said. “It’s going to come down to which team makes the least amount of mistakes.”

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