By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
JACKSON – There should be no doubt left in Northeast Mississippi that the Tupelo Golden Wave football team is for real.
But there is still one more nerve-racking test left for the Wave – to prove themselves to the rest of the state.
Tupelo plays for the ultimate trophy and status today in the Veterans Memorial Stadium at 7:30 p.m., facing the Oak Grove Warriors for the Class 6A state championship.
It’s Oak Grove’s Air-Raid versus Tupelo’s Flood Warning.
“We wanted to keep this week as normal as we could,” Tupelo first-year head coach Trent Hammond said. “And at the same time, we were trying to let the kids see how special this is.”
Aside from the hype roaring around the Wave (13-1), the last time Tupelo was in this position was 1992, the one and only state title for the school in football.
Both Tupelo and Oak Grove (13-1) did not qualify for the playoffs a season ago. Tupelo was at a forgettable 4-7.
But the 2012 season is just a speck in the rearview mirror now. Tupelo rides into the season-ending contest on a six-game winning streak, having knocked off 10-time state champion South Panola 12-3 a week ago.
Oak Grove comes to Jackson on a five-game winning streak, having dispatched Meridian 45-14 last week.
“These two teams are completely different,” Hammond says. “They’re a finesse team, while we line up and come right at you.”
The Wave feature one of the stingiest defenses in the state, with the team only allowing 9.9 points per game.
The Tupelo defense has featured the linebacking corps of James Gilleylen, Ashton Wedel, Justin Clifton, and Marcus Robinson.
“I’ve looked at their defense on film, and they tackle real well and run to the ball real well,” Oak Grove head coach Nevill Barr said. “We’re going to do the things we do, we’re going to throw the football.
“But I think it still comes down to up front, our offensive front against their defense.”
McCarty’s on fire
Oak Grove quarterback Kirk McCarty has thrown for 3,782 yards and 42 touchdowns, and has four receivers with over 700 yards each. The Warriors are averaging 40.2 points per game.
“They’re offense moves you around on the edges,” said Hammond, whose 2011 Amory squad passed for more than 5,000 yards. “Oak Grove does things similar to things we ran at Amory.”
Tupelo, which saw starting quarterback Daniel Bristow miss the South Panola game last week with the flu, is still dealing the illness.
Hammond simply reports the Wave has players who are still affected.