Of course, it should be another fine addition of the Petal and Oak Grove rivalry game on Friday.
Even with limited fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the game should once again be a showcase of talent.
“This is always a fun ball game,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “Both teams are always good programs. It should be a fun night.”
Both teams opened the season with hot starts, but in the last two weeks, Petal has stumbled after losing two in a row and dropping its season opener in region play 42-39.
“It’s a big game and a district game and so we have a chance to even our record,” Petal coach Marcus Boyles said. “We have to play a lot better than we have been playing in the last two weeks. This is a really good Oak Grove team.”
Oak Grove, who defeated George County 59-24 last week, had dominated teams in its 3-0 start and is ranked as the No. 2 overall team in the Associated Press Poll.
While both teams have had different results in the last two weeks, Petal and Oak Grove bring explosive offenses that are led by talented quarterbacks and wide receiver corps.
Petal’s quarterback Jackson Allen, a transfer from Oak Grove, has thrown for 1,100 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. Allen’s main targets have been Jonathan Harris, Jeremiah Robinson and Micah Cherry, who have accounted for 48 catches, 907 yards and six touchdowns. Petal (2-2) has averaged 35.75 points per game on offense.
“They have a really good offense,” Causey said. “They have really good wide receivers. (Allen) has done a good job of distributing the football and played really well.
No doubt (Harris), (Robinson) and (Cherry) are extremely talented. They do a good job of protecting and have an accurate quarterback.”
On the other side of the ball is quarterback Kabe Barnett who leads the Warrior (3-0) offense, and he has thrown for 542 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. Barnett’s main two targets have been Tyrell Pollard, who has hauled in 11 catches, 259 yards and five touchdowns, along with Jordan Coleman, who has six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. Oak Grove’s offense has averaged 59 points per game, with notably most of their starters not playing in the fourth quarter for almost every game so far in the Warriors’ season.
While Petal coach Marcus Boyles credits Oak Grove’s wide receivers and quarterback, he believes that most of the success is due to the Warrior offensive line.
“They are really, really talented on offense,” Boyles said. “I think four or five of their offensive linemen are back. They are pretty good up front. Skill-wise their quarterback is really good. They have pretty good running backs and have really good receivers.
“That offensive line allows them to dictate what they want to do, whether it’s a run or pass (because) they are good at both. They do a good job of run blocking, and at the same time, they do a great job of pass blocking. (Barnett) is a very talented kid that does a good job protecting the football and does a great job of getting the ball to their playmakers.”
One distinct difference between the two offenses is their respective run games. Petal has struggled to run the ball this season and, as a team, has averaged 3.3 yards per carry while scoring only two rushing touchdowns thus far. For comparison, Oak Grove averages 5.5 yards per carry and scored eight rushing touchdowns.
If it’s the right word to use, the weaker side of the ball for both teams is their defenses. Oak Grove has given up an average of 26 points ,while Petal has allowed 25.5 points per game. Despite the somewhat high numbers, there are several reasons that explain each team’s higher number. However, both the Warriors and Panthers definitively struggled on defense last week as Petal gave up 42 points to an 0-3 Pearl team, and Oak Grove gave up 17 points to George County in the first half. Had George County not fumbled several times in its 20-yard line, the Warriors’ final score could have looked drastically different.
For Causey, his main concern is Petal’s defensive backs, which are Harris and Cerry, which have come up with several interceptions on the year.
“They are a really well-coached team all across the board on offense, defense and special teams,” Causey said. “They will be in the right spot. They have some really good physical players that can cause some problems. On the backend, they have the two guys that play wide receiver for them. They are really talented. This will be a big challenge for us.”
As for Petal, the main concern with Oak Grove’s defense is their speed as a team.
“Defensively, the biggest that jumps off the page is there speed on defense. The defensive linemen have decent size, and they are really quick. They have a guys that can play zero coverage, get after you, and bring pressure. They feel like their guys can cover your guys. I think defensively, they put a lot of pressure on you.”