Teams have practiced. Fans have waited. Fields are painted. Records stand at 0-0.
Friday night football is back.
So it’s only appropriate that since Quitman and Laural are no long division rivals, they will line up against each other to open the season on Friday night.
This season, Laural moved to Class 5A leaving behind the recently heated division matchup with the Panthers.
“All the teams in 4A, we know what they got. They going to shock a lot of teams in 5A,” Quitman head coach Steve Bynum said.
He said it all started with flip-flopping division titles year after year, but in 2011 things heated up. The Golden Tornados routed the Panthers, 41-8, in the regular season, but Quitman used it as a wake up call.
“We ended up turning our season around, getting in the playoffs and we met again in the south state championship,” Bynum said. “It went from a blow out to a really good, close game.”
The Panthers held Laural to on touchdown win, 28-15, before the Golden Tornados lost the state championship to Lafayette, 39-29.
Quitman got reveneger on the road in 2012, giving Laural a run for their money by winning on the road, 55-20.
Bynum said both teams will be really young this season, but if anything, that should make Friday night’s game better.
“It’s going to be the battle of the two young teams,” Bynum said. “Hopefully, we’ll come out on top … it’s just kind of heated up. A lot of our kids know their kids, so fans know one another. It’s a good clean rival game.”
Quitman is returning eight starts from last year, four on each side of the ball, but Bynum lost his entire offensive life creating a weak spot. Additionally, he has his eye on Laural’s sophomore quarterback and receive duo in Keon Howard and Octavious Cooley.
“It’s going to be a challenge to try an hold those guys,” he said.
But working for Quitman, will be its speed on both sides of the ball. Bynum said he has been pleased with what he’s seen in practice and in the two quarter wins to Stringer and Heildelberg last week during the jamboree.
He also feels confident in his defense, as key returners will take the field. Eris Spensor and Reggie Hamilton will be back at tackle with Travarious Moore at defense back. Returning lineback Josh Robinson is likely to sit Friday due to injury.
Dequan Stanley will step up from backup to starting quartback this season.
But without having played a full 48 minutes, Bynum said, everything is a question mark – he can only know so much, but he expects the stands to be full and the teams to be ready.
“With fairly young quads on both sides, both us know the importance of trying to get that first win to set a tone for a little bit of momentum into the season,” he said. “I really think it’ll be a packed house in Quitman and both teams are going to get up for this game. It’s going to be big for the momentum into week two and the rest of the season.”
Choctaw at Leake
The 2013 season for the Choctaw Central Warriors is already looking up from last season as they enter the new year with a game under their belts.
In 2012, rain canceled their jamboree, wiping away an important adjustment period from the schedule.
Head coach Troy Savell said finding game speed before the first real game is key to early success. They didn’t get to do that last year and quickly got off on the wrong foot as the opener against Leake Central was literally the Warriors first game and a 52-19 loss.
Despite being blanked 20-0 by Noxapater in last week’s jamboree, Savell said it was good bench mark and hopefully got something out of their system to go into Friday’s season opener strong.
“They kind of played like the did against Leake Central last year,” he said. “We can’t simulate that kind of speed in practice. Our first game is always that adjustment period – get us use to seeing it.
“We get better after that first game so I expect us to be better than in jamboree.”
The Warriors will open the season against Leake for the third straight year, but this time on the road. Savell said he and the team know what to expect of the Gators.
“Leake is pretty athletic, fast and beat us pretty good last year,” he said. “We can play with them if everyone does there job, plays their best.”
Savell and the Warriors will need a big night from the offensive line, which is still lacking some experience after a rough summer. Demarcus Wilson will be at quarterback, and Savell said, he’ll hopefully carry the team to an early victory.
Wayne Academy at Newton County Academy
Despite coming off an 8-5 season, Newton County Academy head coach Robert Roberts is glad to have some padding room before district play begins because of his team’s youth.
“I think it’s five games before we start district play, we just want to get there by then,” he said.
The Generals are entering Friday’s season opener at Wayne Academy off two 13-0 jamboree shut outs to Leake Central and Tri-County, in which fumbles and turnover squandered away all opportunities.
“Other than we looked pretty good. We moved the ball pretty good against Tri-County,” Roberts said.
Roberts is working with a mostly young and inexperienced team this season. He lost most of his offensive skill players, linebackers and specialty teams over the summer. The many holes to fill and tweak have meant that there wasn’t enough practice time to tie everything together. Some of that work is spilling over into the fall practice season.
“This week we needed to work on kick offs and special teams, we hadn’t done any of that,” he said.
Opening the season with five non-divisions games, including Friday’s home opner against Wayne, will hopefully give the new guys time to adjust and fall into their roles, Roberts said.
As for Wayne, he said he doesn’t know what they have in store with a new coaching staff.
“I haven’t seen anything on Wayne,” Roberts said. “I don’t really know what to expect, [but] they Wayne, we just have to expect hard nose football.”
The terriortory might be uncharted this year, especially with the struggles the Generals are facing with youth, Roberts said they are ready to open.
“We trying to get plays down pat,” he said. “We looking forward to getting this first game under our belts.”
Clarkdale at Sebastopol
The Clarkdale Bulldogs only need one win to avoid a repeat of last season. Friday night’s opener on the road could be the chance to grab a program turnover and get off on the right foot.
Last year, the Bulldogs lined up against Sebastopol in the second game of the season and were tied at 22 as the clock expired. The Bobcats had the last play and made it around for a touchdown and win.
The match-up is this year’s opener. First year head coach Wes Roy said he hopes his team will be better prepared to prevent that from happening again.
“They got us on the last play of the game,” he said. “We hope were not in that situation, but we are going to be more prepared for that. In situation like that, you know what they are going to do. It’s just a matter of being able to get it done.”
Roy was promoted from an assistant coach to the head coach over the summer, which made it an easy transition. He knows his team and the teams coming in, including the Bulldogs.
“We have a pretty good idea, at least we think we have a pretty good idea what they are going to do,” he said. “No way to know for sure, but we feel pretty good about our plan and where we are at going into the game.”
The Bulldogs will look towards their three seniors – Allen Duke, Tanner McQueen and Spensor Dickerson – for leadership, guidance and ball carrying. Justin Goodman at running back will also be a key player in a successful Friday night.
“I think the kids are exited, they’ve been at practice and are ready to play, ready to line up against somebody other than their selves,” Roy said.
They will be coming into game time fresh as Clarkdale didn’t play in a jamboree last week, but Roy said he wasn’t worried.
“I think I know who we are,” he said. “The conditioning is the main thing, you don’t have a game under your belt but other than that, I’m not too concerned.”
Southeast at Newton
Last season, Southeast Lauderdale and Newton High School were in the same division, but with Newton’s drop to Class 2A, the duo will unite on opening night instead of at the end of the season.
“It’s [still] a rivalry since we were in the district together,” Southeast coach Charles Black. “We don’t look at them as a 2A school, we look at them as a good football team.”
The Tigers are returning 2012’s young team. Black said he started almost two-thirds freshman and sophomores last year and they’ve all returned for the new campaign. He hopes the experience will be an added boost.
They’ll be breaking in a new quarterback in Tarakri Brooks after loosing Andrew Black, making the defense the likely stronger side with nine of 11 back.
“Right now, our experience is more on defense,” he said. “We were playing almost nothing but ninth and tenth graders on defense last year.”
Black’s confidence in his team only goes so far as he’s seen what Newton coach Chris Gale has done with the program. He said both teams are equally young and talented.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Black said. “Newton is a much improved team from last year. They are very physical team up front. We gunna have to get down in the dirt and play with those guys.”
Black said with the short preseason, he opted out of a jamboree and stuck to conditioning drills in practice throughout the beginning of fall practices, with no plans to ease up.
“We’ve been rolling with everything and our kids haven’t been cramping in practice, so that in my opinion is a really good sign,” he said.
Northeast at Jackson Academy
The Northeast Lauderdale Trojans are returning a chunk of the depth chart from last year, so head coach Curt Blackburn is hoping the experience pays off this season.
With the season opening on Friday, the memories of the last time the Trojans were in Jackson to play the Jackson Academy Raiders sting as turnovers cost them the game. With eight in 48 minutes, Northeast lost 40-14.
“If we can keep that mark down I think we can make it a better ball game,” Blackburn said. “They are fundamentally sound, make you beat them. They aren’t going to beat themselves.”
The Trojans will head west on Interstate 20 after a 14-13 win over Morton in last week’s jamboree, but Blackburn said they still committed two turnovers that he hopes won’t happen on Friday.
The good news out of the preseason win though, was the team’s ability to rally back. They got down early, and with only playing two quarters, couldn’t waste time to mount the comeback and one-point win.
“It gave us a little wake up call, I think we expected to win,” he said. “Then it got tough and our kids fought back. We were actually behind and fought back to win, so it was a confidence booster for us.”
A further boost is the experience on both sides of the ball. The offensive line will take the field with three-year starters in Reginald Hopson, Devokias Mosley and Brandon Windham. The defense is bringing back seven of the 11 from last year.
The only downside to the returning numbers is how many of them play both directions. Blackburn said Hopson probably only sat out two plays during the jamboree, so fatigue got him and others, sparking worries about their conditioning.
“We got a couple going both ways, could be a pretty factor in the game,” he said. “It still takes about three games for them to get that game speed.”
But as Friday gets close, Blackburn said the team is ready to get started and have a good season after a summer of hard work.
“What I tell the boys, we’re not better than anybody, but we can out work anybody,” he said.
West at Greene County
It will not be an easy road for West Lauderdale, as the Knights travel to South State champion Green County tonight to open up the season.
On top of facing a talented Greene County team, West head coach Stan McCain said the Knights are still trying break in a young an inexperienced team.
One key for the Knights will be ball control. McCain said he has stressed to his team the importance of not making mistakes and making Wildcats beat them instead of beating themselves.
“That will be big for us,” McCain said. “If we can prevent turnovers, I thing we have a chance to be in the game and even win it.”
Starkville Aca. at Lamar
Lamar will have to face its first setback of the 2013 season before it even starts, as junior quarterback Brett Shaffer will miss the Raiders opener due to injury leaving freshman quarterback Davis Harrison to take over.
Head coach Mac Barnes, however, said he feels confident in the freshman abilities.
“We always had a lot of confidence in both Brett (Shaffer) and Davis (Harrison) so we always knew if one went down, we’d have the other.”
Barnes said the Volunteers will bring with them one of the best offensive linemen in MAIS in senior Tripp Janssen. Though Starkville is a young team, Barnes said he the Raiders will not underestimate them and expect a battle.
“They are well coached,” Barnes said of Starkville. “ They play hard. We have scrimmaged them the last two years, and we know what is in front of us.”
–– Tony Tsoukalas contributed to this report