The first 11 games of the season don’t mean much anymore for the Hattiesburg Tigers. Sure, those 11 wins set them up as the No. 1 seed in the 5A playoffs, but it’s win-or-go-home now.
Good thing Hattiesburg has the experience for a deep playoff run from last year to lean on, so last year’s starters, and other players who made an impact, know what to expect.
“That’s 12 extra practices that we got in, plus four games,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said about last year. “Any experience you get with those young guys, it definitely helps, and I think that’s paying off for us this year. I think our veteran crew understands what time of year it is. They understand postseason play and they understand the expectations of you either win or go home. I think all of that is essential to building a program and sustaining a program.”
From the outside looking in, the perfect 11-0 record and countless dominating wins make it seem like the season has gone, well, perfectly. Besides the hiccup against Picayune, Hattiesburg’s defense has held opponents to single digits five of the last six games, while the offense hasn’t scored less than 35 points all season and it’s reached at least 49 points in the last seven games.
Vance doesn’t want anything to change with his team. However, there’s still plenty to work on before Brookhaven comes to town Friday night.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at D.I. Patrick Stadium.
“We just have to do what we’re doing better,” Vance said. “There’s always room for improvement, and we just have to continue to improve. We have to do the things necessary to try and win and go 1-0 this week.”
The Panthers feature three players on offense who can carry the ball effectively out of a spread offense. Junior JQ Edwards leads the team with 658 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 126 carries and sophomore Gabriel Burnett is second with 412 yards and five scores on 72 rushing attempts.
Senior quarterback Sevante Quinn is a dual-threat guy with 1,466 passing yards to 410 rushing yards. He’s thrown for 14 passing touchdowns and rushed for seven more. But, he’s thrown nine interceptions and fumbled three times on the season.
Vance said Quinn is the most athletic quarterback Hattiesburg has faced since its meeting with Oak Grove’s John Rhys Plumlee.
“Defensively, we just have to tackle well and take care of our assignments. We have to make sure the quarterback doesn’t get loose on us and make sure those big wideouts don’t get loose on us.”
On defense for Brookhaven, opponents are averaging 21 points a game with its best performance coming in a 33-3 Week 4 win over McComb. Teams have scored at least 20 points against the Panthers in the last six games, too.
The Tigers’ offense hasn’t been stopped by any team they’ve faced all season, so it remains to be seen what kind of competition the Panthers can be for Hattiesburg. Vance still sees an impressive Brookhaven defense when he pops on the game film, though.
“Defensively, they’re probably the biggest defensive front we’ve seen all year,” Vance said. “The linebackers are very aggressive and they have guys in the secondary who make plays in every film we pop on. We have to go out and play well, take care of the ball and do the things that allow us to be successful on offense.”