The Meridian Star
Nothing gets in the way of the Meridian versus Oak Grove rivalry — not location, not records, and on Saturday, not even age.
The Meridian White Rookies youth team will look to continued the storied rivalry when it heads to M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg to take on the Oak Grove Rookies in the Mississippi Youth Football League’s state championship game on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.
“They know about it,” Meridian head coach Bill Malone said of his team. “They know the Wildcats got beaten by Oak Grove this season. They are going down there to do something different. We are going to make a statement.”
Meridian High School was blown out twice by Oak Grove this season, most recently in the South State championship game where the Wildcats fell, 45-14, to the Warriors.
Saturday’s matchup projects to be a more even game as Meridian (11-0) and Oak Grove (10-1) serve as the top two teams in the state in the eight-and-under level.
“I really didn’t tell them anything special this week,” Oak Grove head coach Jemel Taylor-Ramsey said. “Our goal was to make it to ‘The Rock.’ If we win this, this is on them. It’s up to them. They know the high school beat Meridian, and they have to do the same thing.”
While their players might not have much experience in the rivalry, both coaches said their teams look up to players at the high school level and want to continue their school’s tradition when they grow up.
They might not be to far off either. Former Tennessee Titan and current Southern Miss. running backs coach John Simon, whose son John Simon Jr. plays for the Oak Grove Rookies, took part in a practice before the season and was amazed by the drills the kids ran. Initially, Simon doubted the plays could be pulled off at such a young age, but by their first game the Oak Grove Rookies turned him into a believer.
“I just stepped back and pulled him to the side and told him, this is Oak Grove country,” Taylor-Ramsey said. “He didn’t believe it until our first game when our quarterback threw three touchdown passes. After that, he told me he saw what I was talking about.”
Meridian is no slouch either. Malone said his team has blown through its competition this season, racing past Wayne County, Bassfield and North Forrest for a trip to the title game.
“From day one, I knew what I had,” Malone said. “These kids, they are very smart, they’ll listen and it doesn’t take much for them to catch on. From our first game, they have done exactly what I wanted them to do.”
With so much talent, Malone said he is excited about Meridian’s future on the football field in years to come and enjoys watching his players when they finally make the high school level.
“I love it man,” he said. “There are some guys that play on the high school team right now that I coached. Every time I see them, they come and shake my hand and say ‘hey coach Bill, nice to see you.’ It’s a really good feeling, I’m so proud of them.”
While both coaches agree their kids are well on their way to playing on Friday nights, they said they will enjoy the opportunity to coach them one final time.
“I’m just going to tell them to go line up and play football,” Malone said. “Just do what you’ve done all year. They’ve played like champions. If they keep playing like a champions, they will be champions on Saturday.”