Divide exists in top levels of Mississippi prep football

By Steve Wilson/Vicksburg Post

VICKSBURG — Last week’s 51-23 win by defending Class 6A champion Olive Branch over Warren Central illustrated the stark divide in the top levels of Mississippi high school football.

There are the haves. And there are have-nots. Powerhouses and also-rans. There is no middle ground.

Olive Branch has SEC coaches, like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, on recruiting trips prowling the sidelines in search of talent. Those same coaches haven’t been seen on a sideline in Warren County in a long while.

Since 1993, when WC lost in the Class 5A title game to South Panola before beating Provine in Jackson the next season, the big-time programs have gotten stronger, while the rest of the state’s football programs have been hard-pressed to compete.

In Class 6A, it’s Madison Central, South Panola, Olive Branch, Meridian, Oak Grove and now Petal, with everyone else a step behind. Natchez is on the upswing, while Northwest Rankin, once a powerhouse knocking on the door, has taken a big step back.

South Panola’s string of dominance, interrupted by Meridian (2008) and Olive Branch (2011), is not only a product of a seemingly never-ending line of great players, but a lack of quality in-state challengers capable of knocking them off.

South Panola has won the region title 10 out of 11 years, including two of three since a 2009 move to 6A. The Tigers have played in 13 state title games starting in 1993.

Madison Central has a similar stranglehold on its region, with seven championships in eight years, broken only by Northwest Rankin in 2006.

In 5A, West Point has won three out of the last four Region 1 titles, while Wayne County (Region 3) and Picayune (Region 4) have won consecutive crowns.

Do region titles or even second-place finishes in region play matter?

Since Class 6A was created in 2009, higher-seeded teams are 29-3 in the first round, a winning percentage of 91 percent.

If you’re looking for more parity, go to the lower classifications.

There are dynasties, like Weir (four 1A titles since 1993), Taylorsville (four 2A titles), Lumberton (three 2A titles), Puckett (three 1A titles) and Mount Olive (two 1A titles), but there is more parity as smaller rosters turn over more often and continuity isn’t always a given. In 1A, 2A and 3A, 36 different teams have won 54 titles. Class 4A has the most parity of any classification, with 15 different teams winning titles.

So when the state championship games start on Nov. 30 in Jackson, the lower classifications will have new blood. The larger ones will be the same old names.

New powers will rise as schools consolidate or a new group of talent comes up that takes the state by storm, like Warren Central enjoyed in its heyday. Old dynasties will eventually fall. But the simple fact remains: Parity at the top levels of high school football in the state is a dream that will never be realized.