Petal avoided playoff elimination after coming up with a big 44-34 win against Northwest Rankin.
However, the Panthers will have to do it again for a second week against an equally desperate Meridian team, as the loser of this week will be eliminated from the playoff hunt. Like Petal, Meridian faced the brutal part of the region schedule after having suffered three straight losses to Pearl, Oak Grove and Brandon.
Despite the three-game skid, the Wildcat offense has been efficient as they have averaged 37 points per game. Leading the Meridian offense are running backs Daniel Hill and Johnathon Vaughn.
Hill, who is just a sophomore, has recorded 811 yards and 12 touchdowns on 79 carries.
“(Hill) can play anywhere on the field,” Petal coach Allen Glenn said. “They can snap it to him. They can throw it to him and they can hand it to him. He has some similarities to Cam Akers, who played at Clinton several years. He’s arguably one of the better players that has every come out of this state. He’s so dynamic with anywhere they lineup and he’s a big kid. He’s 6-foot-1, weighs 220 pounds and can run really fast. There is not many of those guys walking around. Its not just him they have several guys on their football team that are very talented too. It’s not just a one-man show.”
Complimenting Hill in the run game is Jonathan Vaughn, who has recorded 558 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Hill and Vaughn are special players,” Glenn said. “They can score from anywhere on the field. They do a good job of getting it in those guys’ hands. They put you in such a bind defensively just because they are so talented. They are not only just fast guys but they are physical. They are tough to tackle. They present lots of issues for you from a defensive perspective.”
At quarterback is Mark Smith, who has thrown for 1,467 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Both Hill and Vaughn are his top two targets, with Hill hauling in 39 catches for 561 yards and four touchdowns while Vaughn has recorded 26 catches, 245 yards and a touchdown.
“The quarterback is a guy that can hurt you with his legs as well,” Glenn said. “They are big up front. They present lots of issues offensively.”
Defensively is where Meridian has experienced problems as the Wildcats have allowed 34.5 points per game this season.
“They are big, long and rangy,” Glenn said. “They run really well. They are playing with more confidence. They had some injuries on that side of the ball that has hampered them earlier in the year.
“It’s a big week for both of us. Those guys are playing well. We were able to get off the schneid so it should be a good game Friday night.”