The Battle for the Burg is a familiar sight as the game once again features two unbeaten teams.
Although the rivalry game is earlier than usual, Hattiesburg and Oak Grove both enter the game 1-0 as two talented teams. When you ask Oak Grove coach Drew Causey and Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance about their respective teams, they give the same answer.
“They are a well-coached team,” both coaches said.
Both teams proved that last week in their season-opening wins, and oddly enough, each team’s weaknesses were the others’ strengths.
Oak Grove had to replace almost all of its offensive pieces, including its quarterback who threw four passing touchdowns and over 300 yards of offense.
According to Vance, the Warriors’ experienced offensive line and quarterback Kabe Barnett stood out the most.
“I think it’s a typical Oak Grove team,” Vance said. “They are always explosive on offense.
“They are really good up front on both sides of the ball. They treasure their offensive and defensive lines with what they do. They are a quarterback heavy run offense, and so you have to account for the quarterback in the run game so that’s a concern. You can’t load up and try to stop them in the run game because it’ll open the passing game. They have a great football team over there. Coach Causey does a great job with them but no doubt we are fired up to play.”
Oak Grove’s offensive performance was led by its run game, which accumulated 212 yards. However, Causey’s main focus on the offense is correcting the amount of dropped passes his offense had, as the Warrior wide receivers dropped as many as three touchdowns.
“I think we did some good things and some bad things,” Causey said. “It was a typical first game. Our special teams were really good. With everywhere else though, I would probably (grade) us a C. We had to improve a lot. We had some dropped balls. We just have to finish some things off and get a little bit better to play a good football team.
“I think we dropped five passes with three of them being touchdowns and were drives that we didn’t score on. That’s something I know we will clean up.”
Causey’s other main critique of his defense was missed tackles, as Oak Grove totaled 19 against Gulfport.
“I felt like we had way too many missed tackles,” Causey said. “I think we had 19 missed tackles on the night. If you go back and look at last year’s first game, we probably had 30 missed tackles. We don’t tackle to the ground in practice, so that was the first time to tackle somebody to the ground we’ve had since last football season.”
While Causey had his own critiques of his team, he was also impressed by Hattiesburg’s secondary that forced five interceptions, three of which were made by Walt Thompson, last week against Laurel.
“Their defensive backs did a great job of getting a bunch of interceptions and really going after the football,” Causey said. “They played really aggressive. That was the biggest thing that popped out to me.”
For Vance, the main criticism for his own team was how Hattiesburg’s special teams played. The Tigers notably had a PAT blocked and had a punt blocked against them. At the same time, Oak Grove blocked two punts against the Admirals.
“We have to be better on special teams,” Vance said. “Blocked punts are a no-no. We have to look better on special teams. Our kickoff coverage and kickoff returns have to be better. Special teams and field goals have to get better. We can’t go for two every time. That’s always a big emphasis to be great on special teams. We have to take off that this week.”
For Vance, the game will come down to being prepared and knowing that his team will have to adjust for Oak Grove’s explosive offense.
“We have to make sure we do our homework and film studies,” Vance said. “We have to get guys coached up and prepare for the unexpected, whatever that may be. We just have to go out and play with a tremendous amount of effort and do the little things right all the time.
“It’s just Week 2 of the season, so obviously there is not a lot of film to watch other than what they did last week. They probably have some things that they didn’t show last week that we won’t know about. We just have to try and prepare our kids the best we can.”
For Causey, like Vance, the game will be a matter of preparation but also controlling his team’s emotions heading into the game.
“I think we have got to just control our emotions,” Causey said. “It’s always an emotional game. The kids hang out during the summertime and during the offseason, so they know each other really well.
“They are always a tough opponent. They had a win last week, and we are going to have to play our best game to beat them.”