Oak Grove hosting Greenville Christian has quickly become the most anticipated football game in the state of Mississippi.
That’s understandable since both teams have had a lot of success and each bolster a lot of talent.
Entering Friday night’s game, the two teams combine to have seven players with Division I offers, and by the end of the season, that number will likely reach the double digits - not to mention the number of players that will sign with junior college programs.
Another reason why this game has gained much attention is that Greenville Christian is the best of the Mid-South Association Independent Schools (MAIS) as the Saints are the reigning MAIS 3A state champions. And Oak Grove is the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) defending 6A state champs. Both teams, of course, are favorites to win both again.
While Greenville Christian is a much smaller program and school, the Saints have several future Division I players and have played and beaten a strong schedule.
To open the year, the Saints beat down Madison-Ridgeland Academy, the two-time defending MAIS 6A state champions, 58-32. The next week they trounced traditional powerhouse Jackson Prep in a 48-13 win.
Greenville Christian’s only loss of the year comes against nationally-ranked Collins Hill High of Suwanne, Georgia. Collins Hill is ranked as a high No. 8 in the USA Today poll. While Greenville Christian lost the game 38-22, at the end of the third quarter, the Saints trailed 16-14.
The matchup between Greenville Christian and Oak Grove was an unexpected schedule change due to several COVID-19 cancellations. The Warriors were forced to play football a week late after going virtual and lost their first scheduled game of the season. According to Oak Grove coach Drew Causey, he wanted his team to have at least three games under their belt before region play, so the Warriors quietly searched for a game in what was originally intended to be their bye week.
Greenville Christian was somewhat in the same spot, as they were unable to play last week since Hillcrest Christian was forced to forfeit due to COVID-19 quarantines.
While the matchup has multiple storylines to watch for, according to Causey, the game in the grand scheme does not alter either teams’ season.
“These are two good football teams that are going to play on Friday night,” Causey said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t affect either team making the playoffs or anything like that. It’s a good test for both of us. It’s a chance to play good competition.”
Currently, Greenville Christian’s roster has three players committed to Division I schools, which includes cornerback Jaterrious Elam (Mississippi State), linebacker JD Stewart (Southern Miss) and wide receiver Chris Bell (Southern Miss).
Oak Grove has four players with multiple Division I offers, which includes offensive linemen Klabron Pollard and McKale Boley, wide receiver Tyrell Pollard and cornerback Dontavious Howard.
Yet the key part of Greenville Christian’s success is quarterback D.J. Smith, who is rated as a three-star recruit. In his first three games, Smith threw for 1,063 yards, 12 touchdowns and completed 63% of his passes while rushing for 462 yards and five touchdowns.
“They have a very talented quarterback,” Causey said. “Their running back is very talented. The wide receivers are good. I think it might be the best wide receiver/quarterback combo we play all year.”
Causey sees many similarities between Smith and Oak Grove starting quarterback Kabe Barnett, who has thrown for 331 yards and accounted for three touchdowns through two games.
“I think (Smith) and Kabe are a lot alike,” Causey said. “They both have really strong arms, and they both make really good decisions. If they both have to tuck it and run it, they both can.
“Whenever they are scrambling, they are both looking downfield to throw the ball. There are a lot of similarities there in both of their games. That kid is extremely talented and has all the tools to be a really good quarterback.”
At running back, Greenville Christian features Marlon Palmer, who in three games has rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns in 24 carries. At wide receiver, Smith’s top target is Bell, who has hauled in 14 catches, 357 yards and four touchdowns.
The glaring advantage Oak Grove has over Greenville Christian is roster size. The Warriors have roughly 90 players on their roster compared to the Saints’ 40. Yet, Causey believes Greenville Christian holds a distinct advantage in having played more games early in the season.
“I think this will be their fifth ball game, and this will be our third,” Causey said. “I don’t know how much that is going to be a factor with them having so many games under their belt already. They are going to be in really good shape. For us, we are still trying to get there. We missed two weeks with us being shut down, so we are trying to play our way into shape since we couldn’t do anything. We felt like that it hurt us last week and that we got tired in the second half.
“I don’t think this game is a make or break for either one of our seasons. The only thing that matters is what we do at the end of the year.”