By Brandon Speck
BOONEVILLE – Mississippi’s four-team playoff system hands some playoff teams a cupcake in the opening round.
Booneville doesn’t get a sweet treat on Friday night.
When the Class 3A playoffs open at home for the No. 2 seed Blue Devils, North Panola is on the other side.
“If North Panola is in any other division, they’re competing for the No. 1 spot,” Booneville coach Mike Mattox said. “They’re that good, with speed everywhere.”
The Cougars (6-5) finished No. 3 in a division behind contenders Charleston and Water Valley. They scored 32 or more points in five of their six wins. Ole Miss tight end commit Willie Hibbler scored seven of those touchdowns on 25 catches, but the rush-by-committee team ran for more than 200 yards a game as well.
Hibbler “is 6-6, 230 and runs like a deer,” Mattox said. “We’ll have to play well and they’ll have to make some mistakes. Defensively, they’re big up front and come at you … speed speed speed.”
Booneville finished the regular season 8-2, No. 5 in the Journal’s final regular season Class 4A/3A rankings. Winners of three straight, the Blue Devils are allowing only 15 points per game, less than 10 points in the eight wins.
An eight-win season has come behind a makeshift line since the middle of the season. Last week, Booneville wound up without two starting guards and a starting right tackle. All considered, the Devils lost seven spots at times due to injury.
On the defensive line, strong side end Chris Sparks was lost for the season. Two-way starters Tyler Floyd, Dylan Horn and Weston Spencer are all considered day-to-day for this week.
“To their credit, they’ve played through it,” Mattox said of his banged-up linemen. “It’s just one of those years, injury after injury. We don’t make excuses. You play with what you’ve got.”