Newton County vs. Morton file art

Hayze West (bottom) and Cameron McDonald (44) bring down Morton’s James Johnson during the 32-13 season opening win on Sept. 4, 2020, at Newton County High School.

Bobby Bass is expecting a playoff atmosphere Friday night.

Newton County (6-0, 2-0) hosts Richland (5-0, 1-0) in a game that will determine which team is in the driver’s seat to win Region 5-4A. The Cougars won last year’s matchup 25-14, and head coach Bobby Bass recalled being impressed with the Rangers despite them ending up winless in the division. Now, Newton County is bracing for a much-improved Richland team.

“We’re the last two teams in Class 4A that are undefeated,” Bass said. “I told Coach (J.J.) Plummer at the district meeting after the season last year I thought they played harder than anyone down the stretch. They have gritty kids, kids who are going to play hard. It’ll be two undefeated teams battle for first place in the district. On top of having good players, they’re very well-coached. This is Coach Plummer’s second year there, and he’s done a tremendous job.”

Coming off last week’s 45-0 win at Quitman, Bass said his team has continued to improve each week, which showed in that game.

“The further along you get in the season you’ve pretty much seen a lot of different looks and formations, so I guess you can say you’re a lot more prepared,” Bass said. “At the same time, offenses add more things, but on offense there aren’t a whole lot of defenses people haven’t thrown at us already, so I feel like we’ll be prepared.”

The Cougars have shut out two teams so far and are allowing a meager 5.2 points per contest. The most they’ve allowed in a single game was 13 points against Morton in Week 1.

“I think it’s just experience,” Bass said of his defense’s dominant performances. “The kids who are playing now have been playing for a while, a lot of them ever since the ninth grade. I think it’s the attitude they have on that side of the ball. They take it personally if someone scores on them.”

So far, Newton County has managed to avoid mandatory COVID-19 quarantines during the season, something that has affected many schools in Mississippi.

“A lot of our kids were sick this summer, so our two-week quarantine was then,” Bass said. “It’s something you worry about, but they’ve handled it very well. We go to great lengths to sanitize things every day. We have sanitizing stands everywhere, and we spray everything down with the stuff they use in the hospitals. We spray down the weight room, locker rooms and bathrooms every day. We’ve been fortunate not to have an outbreak or something like that. We try to do everything we can on our end — not saying other people don’t (as well), but we probably go to the extreme.”

Big games like the one in which they’ll play Friday bring a lot of pressure, but Bass said he’s confident his players won’t get too caught up in the atmosphere.

“We’ve talked about it all week,” Bass said. “In the past here our kids didn’t have experience in playing in a big game with a lot of meaning, but the playoffs last year helped us tremendously. I feel like our kids thrive in big games right now. They play a little extra hard. Our kids are excited for sure, and I’m sure Richland’s kids will be excited, too.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday at Newton County.

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