Tigers play South Jones Friday

By CAMAL PETRO,

Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance either has too much time on his hands or he’s a genius. Probably the latter, though.

Vance has been saying since the spring his players better be ready to play any position on the field, and that wasn’t just coach speak. Throughout the season he had junior quarterback Jarod “Snoop” Conner and senior running back Fabian Franklin play on defense as linebackers, and against Long Beach in the second-to-last regular-season game, he switched up a lot of the offensive positions.

“We had a chance to play guys in different spots, and it gave us as a staff to have different personnel groupings to get ready to go come playoff time,” Vance said. “That’s a card we’ll hold come playoff time, and other teams are going to have to figure out who’s going to be at quarterback, who’s going to be at running back, who’s at receiver and where are those guys going to lineup.”

Against the Bearcats three weeks ago, senior receiver, and the team’s backup quarterback, D’andre Humbles, played behind center while Conner was moved to running back. Both had played those positions in years past, but it proved to be effective in the 48-19 win.

Against West Harrison last week, junior Landon Rascoe played the majority of the time at quarterback, and he passed for 222 yards and a touchdown on a 56 percent completion rate. Conner rushed for 100 yards and two scores on eight carries, while Rascoe added 36 yards on three rushing attempts.

There’s no doubt opposing coaches are putting in extra work when they play Hattiesburg, which gives Vance and his team an advantage.

“I can tell you as a former defensive coordinator, that’s a headache not knowing where guys are going to lineup and having to gameplan against it,” Vance said.  “That’s part of our thought process when we did that. When you get into the playoffs, you have to have every upper hand you can get, and we felt like that was going to give us the upper hand moving forward.”

The Tigers completed the undefeated, 11-0 regular season last week at West Harrison, and Vance said his team “briefly” congratulated themselves on the field after the game. But, he was quick to point out it doesn’t mean anything anymore.

“That means absolutely nothing moving forward because starting this week everybody has the exact same record, 0-0,” he said. “That was the message and we have to practice like that. But, we did acknowledge it on the field, and I think our players understand that there are three seasons. We’re in the third season and we have to take care of business in the third season. What we did in the first two means absolutely nothing.

“We just have to be 1-0 this week, and the other side of the coin, if we’re not 1-0 we won’t get a chance to go 1-0 next week. It’s win and move on, or lose and go home. That’s the way it is and that’s the thing about playoff football.”

South Jones (8-4) is the opponent this week, and the first-round matchup is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at D.I. Patrick Stadium in Hattiesburg.

The Braves will try to be the first team to give Hattiesburg its first loss of the season, and they’ll bring a solid rushing attack to Friday’s matchup. Senior Ricky Boleware leads the team with 891 rushing yards on 148 carries and he’s second with nine scores. Junior quarterback John Mitchell has a team-high 13 touchdowns, and he’s second on the team with 836 rushing yards on 132 carries.

Mitchell also has 1,717 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 45 percent passing rate.

“(Mitchell) is a threat to run and he can throw it,” Vance said. “He’s a great passer, throws a great deep ball and the receiver, he’s a really good player for them.”

South Jones’ opponents are averaging 24 points per game, but there have been plenty of games when the Braves have held opponents to score few points. On the flip side, teams like Brookhaven, West Jones, Natchez and Laurel have put up 30 or more points against the Braves.

“Offensively, we have to take what they give us,” Vance said. “They’re going to be a lot like some teams we’ve played. They’re going to play some man coverage, a lot of zero coverage. They’re going to blitz a lot and try to pressure us, so we know that and expect that. At the end of the day, we have to put our guys in position to make plays and let our athleticism take over.”

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