By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
Two teams in the Daily Journal’s coverage area will vie for state titles today at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson (Mississippi Public Broadcasting and misshsaa.tv will air/stream the contests live): Lafayette in MHSAA’s Class 4A and Starkville in 5A.
The Commodores (15-0) will be going for back-to-back state titles and 16-0 seasons. They are currently riding a 31-game win streak. The Yellowjackets, on the other hand, last won a state title ago a decade ago.
Let’s take a look at their opponents:
LAUREL GOLDEN TORNADOES (13-1)
The Buzz: Beginning at 3 this afternoon, the Golden Tornadoes will try to hand the top-ranked Commodores their first loss since the 2009 state championship game against St. Stanislaus.
“We’ve got 23 seniors on our team,” said Golden Tornadoes head coach Milton Smith, who’s in his seventh year at the helm. “They’ve been with me since Day 1. They’ve bought into the system and we’ve got some tremendous leaders.”
Laurel’s offense: These boys can fly.
“I think they throw a little bit more than they run it,” said Commodores defensive coordinator Eric Robertson. “But they do both well. … They got explosive speed – their receivers, their running back.
“Their quarterback (Dontreal Pruitt) can take it and he can run it or throw it. Their running back (Virzil Tillman) has great speed. They got three or four receivers that can go. Just a lot of team speed.”
Robertson’s boss echoed that assessment.
“Quarterback, running back, receiver (Justin Mack) and inside linebacker (Defond Bester) …. they got a few really good players,” said Lafayette head coach Anthony Hart.
Said Smith, “We try to keep a balanced offense. We try to take what they (the defense) give us.”
Pruitt says they run a zone-read spread offense.
Laurel’s defense: Despite losing two seniors defensive players – linebacker Anthony Horne and outstanding two-way player Devin McInnis (DB/WR) – to torn ACLs early on in the season, the Golden Tornadoes have held opponents to less than 15 points per game. Not to mention, Horne had been McInnis’ replacement.
“It was just one of those things,” said Smith
Leading the way for the Golden Tornadoes’ D are linebackers Bester (199 tackles) and Zach Thigpen (144).
Bester said the Commodores’ offense is nothing they haven’t seen before and they’re ready for the challenge of trying to tackle 6-foot-4, 270-pound quarterback Jeremy Liggins.
“He’s just a person that plays,” Bester said.
He added that his team’s quarterfinals opponent, Tylertown, ran the ball similar to the way Lafayette does.
PICAYUNE MAROON TIDE (12-2)
The Buzz: Don’t let Picayune’s size fool you. These guys may be small in stature, but they can definitely still hold their own on the football field.
“We’re good,” said 5-foot-6, 180-pound Cody Smith, a four-year starter at linebacker and one of 10 seniors on the team. “We’re small but we’re quick.”
Folks will see just that beginning at 7 tonight.
Picayune’s offense: Led by Southern Miss commitment Dereonte Magee (1,834 rushing yards), the Maroon Tide has averaged nearly 276 rushing yards per game.
“We’re a pro-style (offense),” Magee said. “We run the ball a lot.”
Picayune’s defense: Troy Egana (203 tackles) is another 5-foot-6 ’backer for the Tide D, which likes to mix it up out of a 40 defense. Both him and Smith are ready for the challenge of trying to contain Starkville junior quarterback Gabe Myles.
“I heard he was like a younger Michael Vick,” Smith said. “I hear he’s good.”
The Tide got to experience firsthand a dual threat in two-time Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year Anthony Alford of Petal in Week 2. The Tide defeated the eventual Class 6A South champion Panthers, 20-17.