It was a tale of two season-openers for Petal and Laurel.
Last week, Laurel entered its game against Hattiesburg as a favorite and lost 26-12 while Petal entered its game with Brookhaven and quickly established unlikely dominance in a 35-17 win.
The main key in Petal’s success last week was its new starting quarterback Jackson Allen and the Panthers’ experienced receiving corps. Allen was 13-of-19 and passed for 246 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Jonathan Harris made three catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns while Jeremiah Robinson made nine catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Petal coach Marcus Boyles’ one criticism was his run game as it only accumulated 105 yards from 26 carries.
“He played well, and our receivers played well for us. I’m pleased with that part,” Boyles said. “But we have to establish our running game. That’s going to get better with experience. That’s a big thing we have to get better at, which is run the football and take the pressure off our wide receivers and our quarterback. That’s our focus in the next few weeks.”
Boyles was also just as pleased with his defense but felt that his team missed many tackles in the opening week.
“Defensively, I was really pleased with the effort,” Boyles said. “There was not a lot of blown assignments. We missed probably too many tackles this past week, and we didn’t stop the run very well at times.”
For Laurel, the Tornados were without their top two players in Week 1. Stud running back Xavier Evans, who totaled over 3,000 yards of offense last year, did not play against Hattiesburg. Star wide receiver Kanarius Johnson also left the Hattiesburg game in the first drive. Despite the injuries, Boyles expects both will play against Petal this week.
“Hattiesburg played well, and Laurel had seven or eight turnovers,” Boyles said. “Their big-time running back didn’t play against Hattiesburg, and we anticipate him playing this week. We expect to see a different Laurel team.
“That’s the big thing we told our kids, ‘Don’t look at the score with Laurel-Hattiesburg game.’ First of all, it’s a rivalry game, and then the turnovers played a factor. Hattiesburg played really well too. I think Tony (Vance) and them did a great job against Laurel, but that’s a big rivalry game. For our kids, we have to focus on us getting better.”
Boyles also expects that Laurel’s defense will also play very differently since the Tornado defense played on the field so long due to eight turnovers and missing the key offensive players.
“They are fast. When you look at it, they played really well,” Boyles said. “They stayed on the field way too long. They really did. They were on the field for a long, long time. Their linebackers and corners played really well. Their corners were aggressive and did a great job coming off a man making tackles. The linebackers are physical and get after it.
“(With their) defense, you aren’t going to have those explosive plays as we did against Brookhaven. We’ll have to establish consistency on offense and grind it out a little bit. Defensively we have to tackle this week, or Laurel will have some explosive plays against us.”
For Boyles, this week’s game is just part of the process of ensuring that his young team gets better.