Hattiesburg can clinch top seed with win Friday

By CAMAL PETRO,

Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance will argue against it, but with a win Friday night at Long Beach, the Hattiesburg Tigers will snag their second straight region title. That’s not on Vance’s radar, though.

In his mind, there’s only one way Hattiesburg will win the region and that would be if his team wins the final two remaining games on the schedule.

“I’m not 100 percent sure,” Vance said ON if Friday would lock up the region. “I haven’t even looked at it. The only way I know we clinch the region is if we win the last two.

“I’m not (talking about that). I’ve heard about teams losing regions the last week of the season because of tiebreakers and all that junk. I don’t want that to happen to my team. I tell them the only way to outright win it is to win the last two.”

Regardless, if Hattiesburg beats Long Beach its record can’t be worse than 6-1 in the region while Picayune is the only other team that could finish 6-1 as well. The Tigers have the tiebreaker over the Maroon Tide, so Hattiesburg would get the No. 1 seed in the postseason.

The task remains the same, though. Hattiesburg wants to finish its second consecutive regular season undefeated and it starts with the Bearcats this week. The Tigers are coming off a 49-35 win over Picayune last week, and it was the first time they’ve played a close 48-minute game since, realistically, Week 1 against Petal.

It was something the Tigers needed, Vance added.

“Those games definitely make you better,” he said. “They tested us and we needed to be tested. It’s been a while since we’ve been in a tight game and we needed that.”

Long Beach (3-6, 1-4) has had its fair share of struggles this season, but it snapped a five-game losing streak at West Harrison last week. Prior to that, the Bearcats’ only other wins came Week 2 against Bay High and Week 3 over Vancleave.

On the Long Beach offense, Hattiesburg is very familiar with senior running back Dennis Andrews. The 788-yard rusher used to attend Hattiesburg before his varsity career, and members of the Hattiesburg team have stayed close with the coast running back.

“We think the world of Dennis,” Vance said. “He’s still a Hattiesburg kid and he’ll always be a Tiger at heart, even though he moved away. He’s still good friends with all of our players on the team, and he’s just a special kid.”

As a team, Long Beach averages 124 yards per game while junior quarterback Cade Crosby averages 218 passing yards a night with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has five games with at least 250 yards and he’s been held to less than 150 only once.

“It’s a new head coach, so it’s little bit of a different philosophy,” Vance said of the Long Beach offense. “They’re not running (Andrews) nearly as much; they’ve been throwing it a lot more. They have a young kid at quarterback who has a good arm. You watch them on offense and they showcase him a little bit more. Dennis, he takes the football and he can break tackles and take it to the house on you.”

Defensively, the Bearcats allow a ton of points. Even in the West Harrison win, the Hurricanes scored 33 points, and in the last six games, opponents have scored at least 30 points, too.

“They’re kind of like what we’ve seen the last few weeks,” Vance said. “They’re going to bring pressure with a lot of man coverage to force your quarterback to make plays in the passing game.”