GENE PHELPS: Area teams try to break two-and-done trend in state football championships

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – In the 29-year history of the state football playoffs, Northeast Mississippi has never crowned more than two state champions in a season. Hopefully, that will change this weekend.
NEMiss has four teams – four strong teams – playing for state championships.
Calhoun City (15-0) takes its shot at 3 p.m. today in the Class 2A finals against Lumberton at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. All three championship games scheduled for Saturday feature NEMiss teams – Aberdeen (14-1) vs. Forest in 3A, Lafayette (15-0) vs. North Pike in 4A and West Point (13-1) vs. Brookhaven in 5A.
Aberdeen and Lafayette return after losing in the title game last season. Calhoun City was here two years ago and lost.
West Point is the defending state champion and in a hunt for the program’s seventh state title.
Retired coach Jim Drewry, who won three state championships during his tenure in Booneville, is something of an expert on playing in title games. His teams played in seven, winning in 1990, ‘99 and 2000.
Drewry, who stepped down last spring after 50 seasons on the sidelines and a state-record 346 wins, says playing for a championship is always a tough assignment – for the coaches and players.
“It’s hard to get your kids to understand what they have against them, the competition they’ll face in this game,” he said. “Also, you don’t have a lot of time to find out about the team you’re playing.
“Travel’s a big thing, too. We played all our games during the day. One was in the morning. We always had to go down the night before. All those things figure into it.”
Another hurdle for the players, Drewry says, comes prior to the game.
“There are a lot of distractions, a lot of hype, the week of the game,” he said. “It’s hard to get a team ready.”
Drewry blames himself for his team’s championship game losses in 1997 (to Ackerman) and ’98 (to Taylorsville).
“I thought we needed to change things, things we’d been doing all year … it backfired on me,” he said. “Don’t try to change what got you there just because you got there. Stick with what you do best.
“I’m speaking from experience. Dance with the girl you brought to the dance!”

Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or gene.phelps@djournal.com.