The beginning of high school football always marks a return to scoreboard watching here at The Star, as we aim to have final scores for all of our local teams from their Friday night contests in each weekend edition of the paper.
By the time teams begin the divisional portion of their schedule — or the “second season,” as coaches often put it — scoreboard watching evolves into keeping up with divisional standings. While your hardcore prep football fans were likely keeping up with their favorite teams’ divisional foes from the start, records against divisional opponents determines playoff seeding. In other words, if they weren’t following those teams before, they are when the “second season” begins.
There are numerous divisions local football fans will be following this fall. Meridian’s MHSAA Region 3-6A is obvious, and Lamar’s MAIS District 2-5A will be tough sledding for the Raiders. Two Lauderdale County schools are in Region 5-3A — Clarkdale and Southeast Lauderdale — and the other two, Northeast and West Lauderdale, are in 4-4A with Choctaw Central.
One division that has caught my interest, however, is Region 6-2A, home to Newton, Union and Philadelphia, as well as defending 2A state champion Scott Central and Lake. Let’s look at Lake first: Last year, the Hornets were 7-5 overall but just 1-3 in Region 4-2A. (Region 4-2A was comprised of the teams that now make up 6-2A after MHSAA realignment.) They made it to the second round of the 2A playoffs. Lake is also two years removed from an 8-3 record and a 3-1 divisional finish before falling to Calhoun City in the first round of the 2017 Class 2A playoffs. That was a tough draw for the Hornets, as Calhoun City made it all the way to the 2A semifinals that season.
Union surprised some folks last fall after finishing with an 8-5 record, 3-2 in its division, and making it to the second round of the 2A playoffs. The Yellowjackets did so with a roster comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores, as MaxPreps.com shows only eight seniors on last fall’s team. The returning players are a year older, and Union started the season with a 42-21 win against Choctaw Central.
In talking to Union coach Brad Breland, he’s of the opinion that the teams who finish third and fourth in Region 6-2A would potentially be divisional champs in some of 2A’s other regions.
“It’s kind of top-heavy, but even three, four and five will be really strong,” Breland said. “I feel like we’ll have four really strong teams in the playoffs. I know it’s a tough region, and I feel like it’s just as tough as any of them.”
Scott Central probably gets the most respect from 6-2A, but Breland said Philadelphia, Lake and Newton should be good challenges for his squad as well. Philadelphia returns a senior-laden team that’s expected to field its best squad in a long time, Breland said. The Tornadoes’ roster includes standouts like receiver Lideatrick Griffin (a Mississippi State commit) quarterback Asher Morgan (a Samford commit) and receiver Kadarius Calloway (uncommitted, only a junior). Lake also has a big senior class, Breland added, and is coming off a win against Class 3A’s Forest last week. He also expects Newton to be improved in head coach Zack Grady’s second year.
Philadelphia head coach David Frey didn’t mince words when I asked him about Region 6-2A.
“There aren’t any cupcakes on our division,” Frey said. “I honestly think we have the toughest district in 2A this year. Scott Central is the defending state champions, and Lake is always tough. Union had mostly ninth graders last year and were really young, and they brought most everyone back, and they’re going to be a really strong team.”
Because of that, Frey decided he needed to stack his schedule with strong non-divisional opponents in order to prepare his team not just for the playoffs, but for the division as well. The Tornadoes lost a close game to Center Point (Alabama) last week 26-20, and it’s not going to get any easier, as the next three opponents are Class 4A’s West Lauderdale, Leake Central and Noxubee County, followed by an MAIS standout in Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
“In the past, we always played easy teams starting out, and I think that boosts the kids up too much,” Frey explained. “They think they’re already that good. If you take one on the chin with a tough schedule, they know there’s a lot more room to improve. I said when I got the job I wanted to play against the best, because to be the best you have to beat the best. Of course, the tough part is, if they take one on the chin, you have to keep them together because they’re not used to it.”
For the sake of fairness, I should note Enterprise head coach Kelly Jimmerson believes his division, Region 5-2A, is the toughest in the classification. He said as much when I interviewed him for our football tab preview on the Bulldogs. With teams like Heidelberg, Bay Springs and Taylorsville — which beat Scott Central 32-12 last week — it’s certainly a fair opinion. When Clarkdale moved up to Class 3A and out of that same division, I actually thought it was good for the Bulldogs from a football perspective.
I don’t mean to discount Region 5-2A or try to make a case on which one is better between 5-2A and 6-2A. Both will be difficult for our local teams to navigate. With the loss of Clarkdale to Class 3A, though, that puts only one of our teams in Region 5-2A, whereas three local teams reside in 6-2A, a division that feels wide open at this point. When the regular season is over, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Scott Central is knocked off as the defending No. 1 seed.
Drew Kerekes is the sports editor at The Meridian Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.