HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: 3A rivals prep for battles

As the playoffs get into full swing tonight, the spotlight will shine on two area MHSAA Class 3A second-round games.
Undefeated Booneville (11-0), the Daily Journal’s top-ranked 3A team, will play at third-ranked Nettleton (9-3).
“We’ve tried to take it one game at a time,” Booneville coach Jim Drewry said about his team’s focus this season. “We got our work cut out for us against Nettleton …
“Nettleton’s got a good football team. They’ve been playing well.”
Meanwhile, second-ranked Aberdeen (10-2) will travel to fourth-ranked Ripley (6-5).
“We really don’t know,” Ripley head coach Mac McCurry said when asked if his team is playing it’s best football. “We’ve played pretty good offensively. Defensively, we just haven’t put together a good defensive effort yet.”
These two playoff matchups are rematches from games played in 2008. Booneville beat Nettleton 42-6 in Week 2 of the regular season, while Aberdeen came from 21 points down to beat Ripley, 28-21, in the second round of the playoffs.
Ripley “gave us trouble up front last year,” said Aberdeen head coach Chris Duncan. “Of course it rained last year, and we dropped balls one after another.”
On paper, this year’s matchup has the makings of a high-scoring affair. Aberdeen is scoring 38.1 points per game, while Ripley, out of its Wing-T offense, is averaging 34.5 points.
Led by quarterback Aaron Andrews, running back Jamerson Love – a Mississippi State commitment – and wide receivers Erik Buchanan and Rashad Pargo, the Bulldogs exploded for 40 points against Independence in last Friday’s first-round playoff game.
“If you sell out to stop the pass with Buchanan and their other receivers, then Andrews or Love beats you running the ball,” said McCurry.
“Love is SEC caliber, certainly. He’ll be the fastest player we’ve faced all year.”

Running the Wing-T
From a strategic and execution standpoint, Ripley’s backfield has also been known to create havoc for opposing defenses.
“The thing is with the Wing-T – of course they run the double (Wing-T) most of the time – is that nobody is use to seeing it,” Duncan said. “With these spread offenses, defenses are set up to stop that.
“Hardly seeing it (the Wing-T) every week make it’s difficult to adjust and prepare for.”
Perhaps a more telling sign that a lot of points may be scored tonight is the fact that Ripley is allowing 25.1 points per game after surrendering 44 to LeFlore County last week.
At Nettleton, Tigers head coach Jack Clark will be coaching just his second playoff game. His team knocked off Cleveland East Side 25-24 in last week’s opening-round contest in the Delta.
“Going over there and winning a game, it’s a hard place to win football games,” the second-year Nettleton coach said. “They’re super athletic over there.
“It was an exciting football game that was my first playoff game to coach in. We’re 9-3 right now and we got a good group of kids.”
So does Booneville – and a coaching legend to add to that. Drewry, who has coached the Blue Devils for 32 non-consecutive seasons, became the winningest high school coach in Mississippi with last Friday’s 59-6 first-round playoff win against Marshall.
“They are 11-0 and that’s going to be a big order for us to be filled,” Clark said. “You know their coached well. They’ve been well-coached as long as he’s (Drewry) been there.
“They’re going to be well-prepared, and hopefully, we’ll be well-prepared. They are going to be tough to beat. They’re a good football team.”
Ripley is another good team in the area, even if its record doesn’t entirely indicate that.
“I think they’re one of the best (Class) 3A teams in the North,” Duncan said. “From looking at the film, they don’t look like a team that’s lost five games.
“They’re good on both sides of the ball. They’re very physical on both sides of the ball.”
What could have done the Tigers in in their five losses this season are injuries and inexperience on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ve got six sophomores and a freshman starting on defense,” McCurry said. “In 27 years of coaching, I’ve never been in that position.”

Super sophomores
Nettleton, on the other hand, has been able to win nine games with several underclassmen in starting roles.
“Overall, we got one senior on offense and four seniors on defense,” said Clark, who’s in his second season at the helm. “We got a really good sophomore bunch of players.
“I think all of our touchdowns the other night were scored by sophomores. We got a good sophomore class and we hope they get better.”
For now, the Tigers will be focused on the Blue Devils, as a trip to the quarterfinals against the winner of the Water Valley-Belmont game is on the line.
The Aberdeen-Ripley winner faces the Leland-Charleston winner in the North’s other quarterfinal.

Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or john.wilbert@djournal.com

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal