Hattiesburg has stayed unbeaten in district player after defeating Florence last week 52-0.
However, the Tigers’ schedule will begin to get much more difficult. Hattiesburg’s upcoming stretch of games includes Brookhaven, Wayne County, West Jones and Laurel, with three out of four of those games being on the road.
“The next four games are going to be, do or die for us,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “For all intents and purposes, we are in playoff mode starting this week because you have to win to have a chance to be in the playoffs. We can’t drop one right now. Four district wins might not get you in.
“Right now, we have three teams in our district that are undefeated, and Laurel and Brookhaven have one loss. It’s probably going to come down to the last week of the season.
It’s a long way from being decided.”
The stretch kicks off against Brookhaven, which comes off a 20-14 overtime loss to Wayne County. While the Panthers hold a record of 2-3 and are 1-2 in region play, Brookhaven has improved tremendously compared to the beginning of the season, which makes their record deceiving. The Panthers’ three losses are to undefeated Tylertown, reigning 5A state champions West Jones, and, as mentioned, Wayne County, which is undefeated in region play.
Vance believes that the toughest part of Brookhaven’s team is its defense which has allowed 19 points per game. Brookhaven has forced 11 turnovers as a defense, with 10 different players recording an interception or fumble recovery. Leading the defense is Malachi Williams, who posts a team-leading 56 tackles.
“On the defensive side of the ball, it’s a carbon copy (of the talent on Brookhaven’s offense),” Vance said.” They are really good on the defensive side of the ball as well. Those guys are big, fast and athletic. We haven’t played a defense like them all year.
“They are a 4-2 defense. They’ll have a one-high safety look with a lot of zone coverage. They are really fast on defense. The linebackers play really hard”.
On offense, the Panthers have averaged 16 points per game. However, Brookhaven does feature a variety of weapons, including dual-threat quarterback Dre Ross. Ross has thrown for 427 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions while rushing for 167 yards this season.
Ross’ top target at wide receiver is Javonta Stewart, who has hauled in 15 catches for 332 yards and four touchdowns. At running back, Brookhaven mainly relies on Xavier Grayten, who has run for 351 yards and three touchdowns on 75 carries. Notably, Grayten has also thrown a passing touchdown.
“They are probably going to be the most difficult team we have played all year,” Vance said. “They are really big on both sides. They have a really good defensive line. Their quarterback can throw it, but he can beat you with his feet. The running game is really good. They run hard, and they run fast. They have got a couple of receivers that are really good. They have got guys on offense with their quarterback, running backs and receivers that can keep you up at night. That offensive line plays hard. We’ve watched them on film, and they are very well-coached.
“We have to take it one game at a time because these last four are going to be tough.”