Friday night's clash at Newton County is set to be a battle of the toughest as the Cougars host the Neshoba Central Rockets for the first time in decades.
Neshoba head coach Chuck Friend said he wasn't sure if the two have ever played in the regular season, but at least not under his watch in the 1980s or since he rejoined the program seven years ago.
“It’s 30 miles, both of us are county schools, I think that part makes it appealing,” Friend said. “Both schools have good chances. It ought to be a good money game for both of us.”
Both teams are coming off of dramatic jamboree finishes, but with a big difference. Newton County shut out Union, 21-0, while the Rockets were on the receiving end, walking away from Meridian with a 24-0 loss last Friday.
Newton County head coach Jackie Williamson and Friend both said this week’s the match up was to be almost equal, despite each having a glaring worry about the other.
The Cougars are physically a smaller team, Williamson said, as he estimated that both his fronts would be more than 50 pounds lighter than the guy across from him.
“They've got some big ol' kids,” Williamson said. “We are going to be undersized. They are differently going to out weigh us across the front, both offense and defense … We feel like they are going to try and run at us, straight at us.”
The Rockets, Friend said, are much slower, which means he will be relying heavily on his defense to contain to the best of their abilities. But also to make up for it, he said his young offense needs to generating first downs.
Friend is relying on freshman Kavonte McCarty at quarterback for a big night. He will have Patrick Burrage, Damoin Seals, Cody Cedric and Taylor Irby as his ball carriers.
“We feel they'll touch the ball some,” he said. “We didn't have a lot of time with the two weeks, jamboree, you don't get everything covered that your need to.”
Williamson acknowledged the Cougars speed. He said he was going to use it to his advantage by trying to tire out the Rocket defense through speeding up the game.
“We have got to really push, push, push the whole game to try and wear the big guys down,” Williamson said.
As the similarities in outlook go for both sides, Friend and Williamson have their eye on the same game changer in the final score. At no surprise, Cougar cornerback Jamoral Graham will be the one to try and stop.
“He's good enough to beat you by his self,” Friend said.
Graham played the full half of Newton County's jamboree finishing with two touchdowns and rushed for roughly 100 yards. Williamson said he expects more than that from him and his starting sophomore quarterback Jacob Edwards.
Edwards completed eight of 11 throws for 150 yards and three touchdowns. He is another one that Friend is worried about stopping and that Williamson said he needs a big night from to come out with a win.
“He's leadership Friday night was great,” Williamson said. “He kept control of the team.”
Opening at home will be a change for the Cougars who have spent the last three years on the road.
Having the home crowd, after a successful jamboree, will create a good atmosphere to get off on the right foot.
“Everybody is 0-0 record wise so the crowd comes out excited,” Williamson said.
Before the game, Newton County will dedicate the new scoreboard to former Cougar coach, principal and Newton County superintend, the late Ken Pouncey. Pouncey's wife, Alice, and their family will be in attendance.