After suffering back-to-back losses to region foes Picayune and Pascagoula, the Tigers have rattled off two straight region wins. As of now, to safely secure a playoff spot, Hattiesburg needs to win its last two games of the season against Gautier (4-3, 3-2), which currently holds the No. 3 seed, and East Central (7-1, 4-1), which holds the No. 2 seed.
While Hattiesburg has the No. 4 seed, Pascagoula (3-4, 2-2) sits just behind the Tigers. If Pascagoula were to win out and Hattiesburg lose one game, then the Tigers would miss the playoffs. However, if Hattiesburg does win out, the Tigers would be the No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs.
“We have talked about that,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “We told our players two weeks ago, that for all intents and purposes, our playoffs have already started. We can’t afford to lose games. We have to win them all from here on out.”
The Tigers will first face Gautier, which picked up a forfeit win over Wayne County last week.
Gautier’s offense is unlike most of the teams Hattiesburg has played this season. The Tigers have faced numerous run-heavy, Wing-T offenses, but unlike the rest of the region, Gautier uses a pass-heavy, air raid style offense.
“They are insane to watch on offense,” Vance said. “It’s kind of difficult in a sense because the last few weeks have been pound it and pound it, and not it’s spread, spread. You have to change your practice up to get through it. We knew it was coming, so it’s not something we’re surprised by.”
Leading the Gautier offense is sophomore quarterback Kaden Irving, who has passed for 1,929 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception while recording a 64% completion rate. Irving has also rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 28 attempts.
“The only runs they really have are quarterback scrambles,” Vance said. “There is going to be a lot of four and five wide and throwing it pretty much every down. They have a quarterback that can pull the trigger. If you watch him on film, he makes throws they make in the NFL. He’ll run it right and then sling it across his body on 20-yard throws. He is really good, and he has guys that can make plays for him at wide receiver.”
Gautier has five different players who have recorded more than 150 receiving yards at wide receiver, with three of those having more than 350 yards. Gautier’s top target is Kolby Packnett, who has hauled in 38 catches, 457 yards and three touchdowns. Packnett is also the team’s leading rusher, with 150 yards and eight touchdowns on 22 carries.
Gautier’s other top two receivers are Zavionne Payne and Tyrese Combest, who have combined for 56 catches, 923 yards and nine touchdowns.
According to Vance, making sure his team establishes its run game and controls the time of possession will be critical in this week’s matchup.
“(Our run game) is huge for us every week,” Vance said. “We have to make sure that we run the football and control the clock this week more so than ever. Sometimes the best defense is an offense that can keep the quarterback on the sideline. We have to win and control the line of scrimmage and the time of possession.”