HHS seniors prepare for final gameBy CAMAL PETRO,
The Hattiesburg Tigers’ senior class has been the backbone for the 2017 team. As ninth-graders, Hattiesburg had a 6-7 overall record with a first-round loss, and now the group of 28 seniors will lead a 14-0 region champion team into Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night.
Since the 6-7 season in 2014, Hattiesburg has improved each season. As sophomores the Tigers were 8-5, then 10-4 their junior year. Now, the class of 2018 has helped their team to an undefeated record and playing for the 5A State Championship.
“First of all, I just want to say, thank you Jesus we made it this far,” senior offensive lineman Quincy Magee said. “We have 28 seniors and we took the role coming into the season. The summer workouts, we had to be here every day and we made sure everybody was here every day. We just bought in what coach Vance and all of the other coaches told us. We’re thankful that we’re here.”
Magee and his offensive line teammates don’t get a lot of credit for their efforts outside of teammates, coaches and family members. When the Tigers’ running game has a good game, which has been every game this season, it’s usually because the linemen are opening up the holes.
Hattiesburg averages 233 rushing yards per game and it has scored 60 touchdowns on the ground this season. Jarod “Snoop” Conner leads the offense with 1,416 yards and 26 touchdowns, and senior running back Fabian Franklin and junior running back Drexlan Allen have added 734 and 603 yards, respectively.
When any of those three players get loose for a score, Magee is usually there to pick up his teammate in celebration.
“I love it,” Magee said of playing in the trenches. “We don’t get the credit, but we let those boys have fun. We just pave the way for them. Every time they score, we’re sprinting. The whole O-line is going to have fun in the end zone.”
Speaking of Franklin, a Mississippi State commit, it hit him Monday that Saturday would be his last game in a Hattiesburg uniform. Of course, any of the last three games could have been his last, but win or lose, the state championship will definitely be the final time.
“Yeah, it hit me Monday when I was at practice,” he said. “I just thought about each day of practice is my last day, so I’m trying to make the best out of it and make it fun. It does make me lock in more because I don’t want to end the season with the one loss. I want to win the state championship and be undefeated. I don’t want to go up there and be 14-1.”
It might have hit Franklin this week, but as of Tuesday, senior Dennis Payton said it hasn’t struck him yet.
“It still hasn’t hit me that this is my last game,” he said. “I know I’m playing in college, but my last high school game? I’m going to miss it.
“It just feels like another game.”
West Point isn’t a pass-heavy team on offense. In fact, it only averages 12 passing attempts and seven completions a game, but the Green Wave has a 6-foot-3-inch receiver, Jason Brownlee, who has 928 of his team’s 1,814 receiving yards. He’s also caught 11 touchdowns, and Hattiesburg head coach Tony Vance said he’s one of the best receivers playing the ball in the air that he’s seen.
“They’re a very good team as well, but we’re a really good team, too,” Payton said. “We’ll just have to be prepared Saturday. We’ll have to load the box and play man on the wide outs. We’ll see how the game turns out. We can handle it.”
Franklin, who committed to the Bulldogs prior to the season, will match up with another Mississippi State commit Saturday in West Point’s Marcus Murphy. Murphy, a three-star athlete for the Green Wave, leads the offense in passing and rushing yards.
Even though Franklin is listed as a running back, he’ll play linebacker in key situations for Hattiesburg. He can’t wait to meet his future teammate on the gridiron.
“We’ve hung out a few times, so we became friends,” Franklin said. “But, right now we’re enemies. We’re both working toward one thing – that golden ball. After that game, we’re going to play in that (Mississippi-Alabama) All-Star game together, so after the game we’ll come back as one and look forward to the future as teammates.”
On offense, Franklin and his teammates will match up with the best defense the Tigers have played all season. Even though he admitted this is the best defense they will have faced, Franklin doesn’t care about what West Point has done this season.
It’s all about Saturday night.
“I know they’re going to come out and play their best,” Franklin said. “It’s the championship. But, I feel like all of those other games don’t mean anything. At the end of the day, we’re both going to play hard for this gold ball, so they’re going to come out with their best. I really don’t look at what they’ve done this year. I’m thinking about what’s going to happen this game.”