Undefeated Hattiesburg travels to GautierBy CAMAL PETRO,
The Hattiesburg Tigers are exactly where they want to be five weeks into their season. Yes, they’re 4-0 after last week’s bye week, but the 4-0 record isn’t exactly what Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance means when he says his team is on schedule to being one of the best teams in 5A.
“We don’t look at it like, ‘We have to be 4-0 after the first four games,’” he said. “We look at it and said, ‘We have to get better each week,’ and I think we’ve done that. That’s obviously the goal – just get better each week. I think if we do that, we’ll have a chance to win. Coming off a bye, we have to get better from Week 4 to Week 6.”
Whether that’s “coach speak” or not, the Tigers are undefeated heading into the start of region play, and they used the bye week to work on fundamentals, get healthy and get some work for the younger players.
After all, when Hattiesburg travels to Gautier Friday night, the games start to matter a little more than the prior four did.
“Ain’t no doubt,” Vance said. “These are the ones that matter. All of them matter, but these are the ones that matter. These are the ones that determine if we make the playoffs and what seed. Our players understand that and we have enough veterans on this team who understand.”
The Gautier Gators started the season red hot with wins over two 6A teams (Ocean Springs and Hancock) and Moss Point. They averaged 32 points per game in those wins while giving up 18 points. Gautier suffered its first loss two weeks ago to rival Pascagoula, 25-22, before its bye week.
Senior Dalyn McDonald is a dual-throw quarterback who leads the team with 260 rushing yards and three scores while passing for 400 yards, five touchdowns and an interception on 32-of-54 passing. Senior Kameron Kincaid adds 204 rushing yards and a touchdown for the ground game, and senior Daylan Ray is the threat at receiver with 173 yards and 14 receptions.
“Offensively, the quarterback is an athlete,” Vance said. “That definitely is a concern. He can beat you with his legs and throws the ball pretty well also. We have to make sure we contain the quarterback and don’t let him get loose running the ball.”
The Gators run a shotgun veer style of offense, so the Tigers will have to be disciplined on defense this week. The defensive line and linebacker will have to “take who they’re supposed to take,” Vance adds.
Defensively, the Gators dare teams to throw it on them first. They’ll bring pressure and play man coverage behind, according to Vance, so Hattiesburg quarterback Jarod “Snoop” Conner will have to make quick decisions when he drops back to pass.
“Offensively, for us, it’ll be the first time we’ve seen a team like that all year,” Vance said.