Meridian Star

October 17, 2013

Wildcats, Bulldogs hope to avoid second district loss

Tony Tsoukalas
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Last week the Meridian High School football team learned just how costly every play is in District 3-6A. After holding Oak Grove to a 14-10 lead in the first half, the Wildcats let the game slip away fast in the second half as the Warriors erupted for 17 points in the third quarter en route to a 38-10 win.

    This week Meridian (5-2, 2-1) will travel to face another 6A powerhouse in Brandon (6-1, 2-1) as both teams look to avoid a second loss Friday night at 7 p.m.

    Meridian head coach Larry Weems said he hope his team learned from its loss last week and has stressed to the Wildcats during practice about the importance of never taking a play or a quarter off.

    “We learned we have to play four quarters,” Weems said. “We have two losses this year and both times midway through the third quarter we had a chance to win the game. We don't play two-quarter games, we play four-quarter games. We have to learn how to finish a game and play at a high level the whole game.”

    Depth has been a key concern for the Wildcats this season, and the lack of bodies has not helped the Meridian finish out games this season. Still, Weems said his team will need to learn to cope with what they do have if they are going to be successful this season.

    “We don't have a lot of subs,” Weems said. “Maybe we are tired physically, maybe we are tired mentally. But, you cant let that be a factor, because when you come in you know you have to persevere.”

    Brandon, Meridian, Petal and Terry are all tied behind Oak Grove with a 2-1 record in district play. Weems said Friday night's game against Brandon will be a crucial swing one way or another for both teams.

    “We are trying to make the playoffs,” Weems said. “If you don't win this one, it makes it hard to get in. We are trying to get in there and compete for the playoff picture. There is no other way to say it, it'd be a big win.”

    Here are five things to watch for in Friday night's game:

     Another proficient passer: After falling victim to talented Oak Grove quarterback Kirk McCarty last week, Meridian will once again be tested in the air as they gear up to face Brandon's Gardner Minshew. The junior quarterback has completed 85-of-154 passes for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns while only throwing one interception this season.

    “He's a good player,” Weems said. “He runs their offense, and he makes good decisions with the ball and does a good job. There are a bunch of good quarterbacks in this league, and we just got another one this week.”

    Thorn in their sides: Meridian has won the last 10 meetings against Brandon with the Bulldogs last win coming in 2002 when they beat the Wildcats 24-0. Last year Meridian beat the defending South State champions, 38-35, at home. However, Weems said his team will need its best performance all season if they are going to extend their streak to 11 games Friday night.

    “I don't worry about any other year except this year,” Weems said. “The other games don't really matter. This is a new year, a new game and a new team.”

    Injured 'Cats: Meridian will be without sophomore Quincy Lenton as he continues to sit out with a high-ankle fracture. The Wildcats were hopeful Lenton would be able to return for last week's game against Oak Grove, but Lenton's injury appears worst than originally expected. The Wildcats will also be without senior running back Ed Glenn for the game.

    “When we are as thin as we are, people are going to have to play a bunch of different spots,” Weems said. “It just really changes our personnel groupings.”

    The big 'Dogs: Brandon offers one of the toughest defensive units in state as the Bulldogs have held opponents under 20 points in six of their seven games this season. Weems said it begins on the

defensive line as Brandon brings in a big group that has already tallied 14 sacks on the year.

    “They probably have one of the best defensive fronts in the state,” Weems said. “It's not just their offense, their defense can play. They haven't given up very many points. They are a tremendous challenge on the defensive side.”

    Protecting J'Mar : If the Wildcats are going to survive Brandon's viscous defensive attack, they will have to keep quarterback J'Mar Smith on his feet. This season Smith has felt plenty of pressure as he has not been able to set his feet and throw on numerous occasions. Last week, the Wildcats spread the ball out at times using five receivers and providing Smith with plenty of short passing routes. Weems said no matter what formation the Wildcats use, everyone on the offense will have to execute at a high level to come out victorious.