As No. 2 seed, Petal hosts D'Iberville

By CAMAL PETRO,

Well, it’s not exactly the same scenario as 2016, but the Petal Panthers will meet the D’Iberville Warriors in the first round of the 6A playoffs for the second straight season.

Then-No. 4 seed Petal took down the top-seeded Warriors last season on the road in the first round, but this season, No. 2 Petal (7-4) will host No. 3 D’Iberville (5-6) Friday at 7 p.m.

“There aren’t a lot of differences, I don’t think,” Petal coach Marcus Boyles said of playing the Warriors again in the playoffs. “They run the wing-T on offense and that’s something we don’t see at all, so that’s a challenge for us. Luckily, we did play them last year, so it’s different personnel but it’s the same plays. It’s going to be a physical football game.”

Petal needed a win last Thursday in the season finale at Terry to advance to the postseason, and not only did it get the win, but it turned in a dominant performance in a 38-14 win over the Bulldogs. Boyles credited his team’s focus in practice all week.

“Our backs were against the wall and I thought our kids really handled it well. They came out ready to play,” he said.

The Panthers’ offense will face a defense that held St. Martin and Harrison Central to 16 and 12 points, respectively, in the last two weeks. Prior to those two wins, though, Gulfport scored 34 points and Hancock put up 56.

Starting the season 1-4, the Warriors are allowing opponents to score 28 points per game, and five opponents scored at least 30 points in its game against D’Iberville. Boyles believes going up against its team’s offense has helped the D’Iberville defense throughout the season, though.

“D’Iberville has always been big and physical and they have some guys who can run,” Boyles said of the Warriors’ defense. “They’re pretty big up front, they have some linebackers who flow fast and it’s just a physical defense. I think going up against a wing-T offense every day in practice, you better be physical.”

The Panthers’ offense has played well in six of their last seven ballgames. Before scoring 38 points at Terry, they had a 47-point performance at George County, then scored 49 on Jim Hill, 31 on Brandon and 41 at Oak Grove. Petal scored 21 points in a loss to Meridian, but Boyles said he wasn’t too thrilled with his offense in the first half. The second half, however, was better in that ballgame.

Petal had nearly 400 yards of total offense last week, 200 rushing yards and 196 passing yards, and senior running back Nataurean “Phat” Watts rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, but even he said it wasn’t his best game. Watts, along with a few others on offense, dropped a handful of passes in the game, and he had a fumble, which oddly enough ended in a Petal touchdown.

“I didn’t play up to my ability at all,” Watts said after the game Thursday. “It wasn’t my game (Thursday), but other players stepped up and we have to get ready for (this week).”

Boyles isn’t worried about the couple of drops by Watts either.

“(Watts) is one of those guys who has a short memory,” Boyles said. “He knows what he can do, and I thought he handled it well. He’ll be the first to tell you that he didn’t play his best, but he kept fighting and I thought he made some big plays for us.”

On the other side of the ball, D’Iberville’s wing-T offense could pose a threat to the Petal defense, or any defense for that matter. Senior Ja’Quavis Foster has the bulk of the offensive production with 1,129 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 176 carries, and junior Jordan Hartley is second on the team with 588 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 120 attempts.

Sophomore quarterback Jaden Walley, who played at Greene County last season, moved to D’Iberville and became the full-time starter last month. He’s fourth on the team with 252 rushing yards on 38 attempts – a 6.6-yard per carry average – and six touchdowns.

“He throws the ball well, but he can run it also, so it adds a new dimension on that side of the ball,” Boyles said.

All of D’Iberville’s statistics are missing last week’s 31-16 win over St. Martin, for what it’s worth.