Hattiesburg travels to Wayne County

By CAMAL PETRO,

Since starting region play, the Hattiesburg Tigers have lit up the scoreboard by averaging 58 points through first three games. The ATM (automated touchdown machine), which is what the Hattiesburg football team calls its offense, is definitely working properly.

Tigers’ coach Tony Vance, however, says the ATM could be running a lot better. How scary is that?

“Well, we still have room for improvement,” Vance said. “We’ve had some turnovers, untimely penalties and things like that, that slows us down. Some it is self-inflicted and some of it is caused by the teams we’re playing doing a good job executing on defense. There is plenty of room for improvement, I promise you that. It’s not all about just the points being scored, but it’s about executing each and every play.”

Production wise, D’andre Humbles had his best game of the season with 131 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. He now leads the team with 383 yards and six touchdowns on 22 grabs.

“When he’s focused, doing things the right way and doing what he’s supposed to, he’s a dynamic player,” Vance said. “Last week was a good example of that, and he’s a guy when he takes the ball, he can make things happen. We expect him, as the season goes along, to be more consistent in his play.”

Hattiesburg, which has found a home as the state’s No. 5 ranked team the last couple of weeks in the Associated Press Prep Poll, is looking to improve its record to 8-0 this week at Wayne County (5-3, 2-1 in Region 4-5A). It’s the second road game of a three-game stretch, which concludes with a potential colossal matchup with Picayune next week.

But, Vance wants to focus on this week first. When asked if he’s fun during his team’s 7-0 start, he reiterated that sentiment.

“It definitely beats being 0-7, I promise you that,” Vance said.  “We just try to focus on this week and let’s try to be 1-0 this week. That’s all that really matters. The previous five, six, seven games are insignificant. We have to be 1-0 this week, and that’s the focus and that’s what we talk about.”

The War Eagles began the season with a dominant 43-7 win over West Jones, but when sophomore quarterback Zhakerreun Wesley was injured, they dropped back-to-back games to Oak Grove and Jefferson Davis County. They’ve since won three out of four games, as Wesley returned to the field last week against Long Beach.

“What it allows them to do with him being back is putting those other guys who were playing quarterback back at their natural positions, which is wide receiver and some at running back,” Vance said. “That gives them some other weapons, so that makes them a better on offense.”

Senior Zabryon Jackson was pushed into the quarterback role when Wesley went down, serving as a legitimate dual threat quarterback. He compiled 473 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 84 carries while passing for 406 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 40 percent passing.

When Wesley came back last week, Jackson moved back to receiver, where he caught five passes for 114 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

Having Wesley back at quarterback has also allowed a few players to go back to their normal defensive positions, too.

“A couple of those guys have been pulled away from the secondary, so it’s definitely a team playing with a lot more confidence this week than it did the first of the year,” Vance said.