This week’s game between Petal and West Jones has become one of the most anticipated matchups in the state.
Both teams have the same strengths and weaknesses, but the excitement the game has garnered is due to the matchup between senior quarterbacks Alan Follis and Jackson Allen, who both lead high-powered passing offenses.
In his first year as a starter, Allen has thrown for six touchdowns and 480 yards with just one interception while helping the Panthers average 36.5 points per game.
In two games, Follis has thrown for 561 yards and five touchdowns on the season. Despite having thrown four interceptions, Follis has helped the West Jones offense average 26.5 points per game. Follis is a three-year starter for the Mustangs, which, according to Petal coach Marcus Boyles, could be a difference-maker in Friday’s matchup.
“They have weapons on offense with their wide receivers and especially their quarterback,” Boyles said. “(Follis) is a three-year starter. He started the year they went to the state championship, so he’s been in the big ball games. There is not much that you are going to throw at him that he hasn’t seen.”
Complimenting Allen is a talented wide receiver corps that features four different players with six catches. The main two targets are Tajrick Randoloh and Matthew Nixon, who combined for 16 catches, 322 yards and three touchdowns.
“They can go,” Boyles said. “They are just good athletes and have been starting for two or three years. They recognize coverages and run good routes. They both catch the ball extremely well, especially in traffic.
“That’s something our secondary has not faced yet. Brookhaven and Laurel were more run-heavy teams then pass. This is a unique challenge for our group.”
While both teams feature efficient passing attacks, both offenses lack run games. Entering the game, West Jones has averaged 2.5 yards per carry from 60 carries. Petal has had slightly better success as the Panthers average 3.8 yards per carry.
“Offensively, we have to continue to get better with running the football,” Boyles said. “It’s a combination of a lack of inexperience on the offensive line and inexperience at running back. It’s both. I think once they get that, we’ll be fine.
“They are kind of like us. They are looking for that run game to get better. They are playing to their strengths like we are. (Follis) can throw it and get it to his playmakers, but he will pull it down, run it, and make big plays with his feet. They also have quarterback designed runs, which is something we haven’t seen a lot of in the first two games. That presents a unique challenge.”
West Jones also has another talent defensive unit that is similar to its 2018 state championship defense. The Mustangs run a 4-3 defense that has only allowed a season-high of six points.
“Defensively, they are fast,” Boyles said. “Their linebackers and defensive backs can really run. The defensive line is a typical West Jones defensive line. They are big and fast up front. Their defense is going to present a really good challenge for our offense.
“They’ll play two high and mix the coverages up a little bit. They are not a big blitz team, but they will bring some pressure on you. They count on those front four guys bringing pressure. I think it’s going to be a challenge. They are the best defensive line we have played. I’m excited to see where we are at.”
For Boyles, he believes that the game will be decided by which team’s linemen can control the line of scrimmage and bring more pressure on the other’s quarterback.
“I think this game is going to be about who can control the line of scrimmage on both sides,” Boyles said. “Whichever team can control the line of scrimmage will have a better chance to control the football game. We have to go out and block their defensive line, and they have to block our front. Quarterbacks don’t like pressure, so if we can get a little pressure on him and make him get rid of the ball quicker than he wants to, then it’s a chance to make it a long night. I think they do a good job pass blocking, and they cling to their strengths.”