A pair of perfect Hattiesburg teams meet Friday nightBy CAMAL PETRO,
HATTIESBURG – Both teams are ranked in the Associated Prep Top 10 poll, both teams have started the season 3-0 and both teams are located in the city of Hattiesburg.
On Friday at 7 p.m., the Oak Grove Warriors and the Hattiesburg Tigers will renew their rivalry at D.I. Patrick Stadium in what should be an electric environment.
“There’s no hiding the fact that we’re both undefeated, and we have really good football teams,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “It’s just a matter of representing your side of the city. We’re looking forward to representing Hattiesburg, and I’m sure they’re looking forward to representing west Hattiesburg.”
The Tigers have taken down Petal, Laurel and Moss Point in their path to early-season perfection, while Oak Grove has defeated Purvis, Wayne County and Laurel. The Warriors have won in three blowouts; Hattiesburg won two close games to start the season before a 40-point victory over Moss Point last week.
Oak Grove has played nearly perfect through the eyes of its fans, but Oak Grove coach Drew Causey sees areas his team can improve on, and he’s happy about that.
“You look just at the scoreboard, then you look at the numbers, there are a lot of areas we can still improve,” Causey said. “So, that’s a positive that we’re not really playing our best football as of yet. We’re excited about our start, and just hoping we can keep it going.”
Last week against Laurel, the Warriors’ passing attack didn’t produce as much as it did through the first two games, as junior John Rhys Plumlee completed 12-of-17 passes for 131 yards and an interception. The rushing attack, however, totaled 208 yards and six scores on 42 attempts.
In his second game back from an injury, senior Orlando Simon toted the ball 19 times for 174 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for nearly 100 yards in his first game back against Wayne County, but Causey saw an extra step in his play, and he expects more from Simon as the season plays out.
“He’s going to get better, especially the first four or five games that he’s back, he’s going to get better each week, because he’s getting his legs under him again,” Causey said. “He’s getting used to the contact of getting hit and stuff like that. I expect his workload to go up some each week, and I expect him to keep producing like he is.”
For Vance and his Tigers defense, they’ll have a tough test. They know it, too.
“They definitely got some weapons on offense, and guys who when you put the ball in their hands, they can put it in the end zone for you,” Vance said. “It’s about like the first couple of teams we’ve played. They have guys who can make plays, so you have to try to defend all of that.”
On the other side of the ball, the Hattiesburg offense has improved every week heading into this contest. Quarterback Jarod “Snoop” Conner passed for 187 yards and four touchdowns on 10-of-13 passing last week against Moss Point, and his ability to pass the ball, because knows he can run it, has gotten better each time he’s taken the field.
“We need him to make some throws for us, and he’s steadily improved each week passing the ball,” Vance said. “That’s what he has to do. We know what we’re going to get out of him running the football, but something he’s worked really hard at is completing passes, hitting guys who are open and making the right reads, and he’s doing a good job so far.”
He also added 74 rushing yards with a score on five carries.
The Tigers added 282 rushing yards on 15 carries, as five running backs, plus Conner, recorded a rushing attempt. Senior Raheem Willis had just one attempt, but it went for 57 yards, senior Mississippi State commit Fabian Franklin had five carries for 52 yards and a touchdown, Drexlan Allen had one carry for 21 yards and sophomore Jamal Donaldson recorded three rushing attempts for 78 yards and a score.
“They have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, so we have to make sure we play really good assignment football,” Causey said. “We have to get off blocks and do whatever we can to make it difficult all night for them.”
Vance pointed out Oak Grove has at least three, maybe four, Division I football players on defense, so his offense will have its hands full.
“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “They have some guys who can turn you away in the run game, and get pressure on the quarterback in the passing game. We definitely have to try to prepare for that and have an answer for those guys.”