The Meridian Star
District play began two weeks ago for the Meridian High School football team, but the Wildcats will receive their first true test on Friday night as undefeated Oak Grove comes to town at 7 p.m.
The Warriors (6-0, 2-0) are the No. 1 team in the state according to Maxpreps.com and No. 3 according to the Associated Press. So far this season, Oak Grove has averaged 434 yards per game including 310 yards in the air. Meridian head coach Larry Weems recognized the challenge the Warriors put on a defense but said he is confident the Wildcats (5-1, 2-0) have the talent to stop them.
“Obviously ain't nobody stopped them yet,” Weems said. “They are going to make some plays, but we are going to defend some too. We'll just have to see, because you never know how you are going to match up against somebody until you play them.”
While Meridian has yet to face a passing attack similar to the Warriors' this season, Weems said the Wildcats aren't doing much differently to prepare on defense. Instead, he said Meridian has treated this week just like any other.
“Their stats will tell you to better score 35 on them, because they are going to get theirs,” Weems said. “It just gets back to who makes the most plays and who can take care of their responsibilities.
“We'll have chances. They are a good team, but I ain't seen anybody this year we couldn't beat.”
Here are five things to watch for in Friday's game.
1) The Rivalry: The stakes are always high when Meridian and Oak Grove face off on the gridiron. Over the last 10 years ,the two schools have faced off 17 times with the Wildcats winning nine games to the Warriors' eight. Seven of those games have been in the playoffs with Meridian holding a 4-3 advantage. Despite the annual battle with the Warriors, Weems said the game is has lost a little bit of meaning now that Meridian shares a district with powerhouses Brandon and Petal as well.
“It's really no different than all the other ones,” Weems said. “I think it maybe developed into that kind of deal before I got here, because I don't know how good the division was. It seemed like Oak Grove or Meridian always won the district every year. We have a lot of good team in here now, so that game is far less singled out because there are a bunch of good teams.”
2) Go-to guy: Oak Grove receiver Jordan Mitch has led the way for the Warriors this season tallying 33 receptions for 628 yards and eight touchdowns this season. While the Wildcats will certainly keep an eye on the play-making senior, Weems said Meridian cannot afford to key in on one man.
“They don't just have one guy,” Weems said. “They throw it around to a bunch of guys. You got to honor all five of their skill guys every play. That's what makes them so good.”
3) Ric back at it: After recorded just six carries in his previous two games, Meridian running back Richard McQuarley finally got some work last week against Provine. The star senior carried the ball 15 times for 133 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. McQuarley lead the Wildcats in rushing yards (381) and is second receiving yards (254) this season.
“He just did what he's supposed to do,” Weems said.
4) Three-headed monster: Friday night begins a treacherous three-game stretch for Meridian as the Wildcats travel to Brandon and then Petal in the next two weeks. The three games against top-5 rated teams will most likely hold plenty of playoff ramifications. However, Weems said his team will continue to only focus on the next game and not worry about the future.
“I'm sure it's gonna be tough, but I don't care about the Brandon and the Petal game,” Weems said. “I worry about playing the team we play Friday night. I don't care what the rest of the season holds, because it has nothing to do with who you play this week.”
5) All Star honors: Meridian seniors C.J. Hampton and Pierre Byrd earned all-star honors recently. Hampton was invited to play in the Mississippi-Alabama All Star Game on Dec. 14, while Byrd will represent the South in the Mississippi North/South All-Star Game on Dec. 21. Hampton will also participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.