By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
Quitman players know how close they are.
The Panthers fell one game short of a trip to Jackson last season, losing to Laurel in South State. With two games separating the Panthers from a chance to play for a Class 4A state championship, the trip to Jackson is all players have in their mind.
“We keep preaching the same thing we started this spring,” coach Steve Bynum said. “We are just trying to get this group to Jackson. Right now it is one game at a time. This week our goal is to go 1-0.”
For the Panthers to go 1-0 this week, it will take traveling to Forrest County AHS and taking on a physical Aggie team. Just like Quitman, the Aggies only have one loss to their name, and have steamrolled through most of their competition so far. The division champs of Region 8-4A are averaging close to 42 points a game and haven’t lost since a Sept. 7 meeting against Bassfield.
“If you look at the two teams from a stat comparison, everything is about the same,” Bynum said. “On paper and in the books, this game should end up 0-0. In my opinion, it is going to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes that will win.”
Mistakes have become a rarity around Quitman. During the Panthers’ last game against Columbia, quarterback Franklin Jones completed 6-of-6 passes for 132 yards, while also rushing in two touchdowns and 132 yards on the ground. The Panthers have not only come to expect that type of efficiency from their senior quarterback, but also everyone on the team. With the immergence of sophomore running back Josh Davis, the Panthers offer a one-two punch seemingly unstoppable at the 4A level.
“Franklin's completion percentage for the year is around 60 percent,” Bynum said. “When you complete more than you are not people have to respect that. We are going to have to be able to pitch and catch a little bit. I think we will still be able to run the football. Nobody has really limited us in doing that all year. But, I do believe we are going to have to be a little more diverse.
“Heck, if Franklin could throw another perfect game where he doesn't throw an incomplete pass, that'd just be gravy on top of it.”
With as much as Quitman likes to run the ball, in theory the Panthers should be seeing more defenders in the box. However, Bynum said it has been the opposite, as defenses are beginning to respect Jones’ arm, as well as some of the Panthers deadly options at receiver.
“We got two receivers Toyell Ball and Toriano Howard in the 4.6 range for the 40,” Bynum said. “Both those guys are deep threats anytime. We also put Tavarius Moore in on some packages, and he runs a 4.4 to 4.5 40 and is about 6-foot-1. We can put him in there, and he can stretch the field too for us.”
Both defenses will face an unfamiliar offensive style. For Bynum and the Panthers, the challenge will be going up against the Aggies Wing-T attack. The Panthers didn’t see that offense, which features a downhill-running attack, throughout the season but will be preparing against it for the third straight week now in the playoffs and will stack the box to prepare for the hard-hitting style of play.
“If I could get 12 in there I would,” Bynum said. “Theu will get into other formations as well, but truly that isn't what they want to do.
“They run the football, and I told my guys I want to see all of them in the box. Our guys don't mind running into you, so I think that will play to our benefit.”