By Brandon Speck
First-year Tupelo offensive coordinator John Keith had some concerns in the spring. Turns out, he just didn’t know at the time that his group was going against the best defense in Class 6A.
“As the spring went on, we knew we were going to be really, really good on defense or horrible on offense,” Keith said. “We had lots and lots of trouble in the spring moving the ball on those guys.”
Tupelo plays for its first state title since 1992 Friday against Oak Grove at 7:30 p.m. at Jackson’s Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Keith came to Tupelo from Amory when Trent Hammond was hired away from the Panthers in December. The two were only a year removed from completely changing Amory’s offense into the state’s most prolific passing attack.
That was expected at Tupelo, too. But it turned out quite a happy medium. Tupelo has rushed for nearly 200 yards per game and passed for 112.
“We play a little bit of defense. We play special teams. We’ve had nights where we’ve racked up 500 yards of offense and 50 points,” Hammond said. “Some nights it doesn’t work like that. Our defense plays pretty good at times.”
Senior Quinn Tiggs leads the team in both rushing and receiving, but five players have at least 35 rushes and five with at least 10 catches. Tupelo has scored at least 26 points nine times.
Tupelo splits its system. Keith and running backs coach Mike Davis share offensive play-calling.
“They’ve got a great working relationship,” Hammond said. “Really, when you come watch us play, when we’re in the gun, spreading it out, all that goes through John Keith. If we pack it in and we’re two-tight, all that goes through Mike Davis.”
Keith and Davis have a knack for different styles, but share a common bond of traveling with Hammond. Keith was at Amory when Hammond arrived. Hammond and Davis started as assistants together at Lawrence County, then Davis as Hammond’s offensive coordinator.
The effective twosome now shares a bond with the opposite side of the ball.
“It gives us confidence that no matter what we do, we’re always in the game,” Keith said.