It’s more than a rivalry when Oak Grove, Petal meet in second round

By CAMAL PETRO,

As if the regular season meeting wasn’t intense enough, things will be amplified when Petal and Oak Grove meet Friday night in the second round of the 6A playoffs.

It’s the first time since 2013 the rivals get together in the postseason, too, but as Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said prior to the meeting earlier this season, the Warriors are treating it like any other game.

“I think we’re going to approach it like it’s Game 13 of the season,” Causey said. “Just approach it like any other week, and just know we have to play a good football game.”

Petal coach Marcus Boyles has a more light-hearted approach to the game.

“There is a lot on the line and it’s a rivalry game,” Boyles said. “The winner keeps playing and if you lose your season is over. At the same time, it’s a lot of fun playing a crosstown rival. I think both teams really enjoy that, so that’s the approach we’ll have. ‘Hey, let’s have some fun. Let’s go out there, relax and play football Friday night.’”

Both teams are playing their best football at the right time, but the Panthers are coming off an incredibly dominating performance over top-seeded Gulfport. They jumped up early on the Admirals, then ran away with the game with a simple rushing attack and a stout defense.

The Warriors played a close first half against Harrison Central in the first round, but a 21-point third quarter created separation on the scoreboard.

Petal is playing with confidence during its five-game winning streak, while Oak Grove’s dangerous offense has gotten healthier the last couple of weeks. Causey see the confidence from Petal quarterback DeCarlos Nicholson on film, too.

“You can see that with the way the quarterback throws certain passes,” he said.

Nicholson didn’t need to throw the ball against Gulfport, only attempting four passes, but he rushed for 61 yards on 13 tries with a touchdown last week. Against Terry two weeks ago, he went 13-for-15 with 201 yards and three scores, so he’s performing well in both areas right now.

For Oak Grove, the team got back senior receiver Kevin Barnett and senior running back Jarius Smith fully last week against Harrison Central. Smith rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and Barnett caught five passes for 91 yards and a score.

“That makes them more explosive on offense than they already were,” Boyles said. “Barnett is a big-time receiver, who runs really good routes and has great hands, but it all goes through Plumlee. He’s the guy who makes their offense go. He’s just a great competitor and great leader for that team. If you don’t watch him, he takes over the game, but also he does a great job of getting the ball to their great playmakers.”

Defensively, the Warriors have put together solid performances in region play to bring momentum into the postseason on that side of the ball. They held Pearl to 13 points, Terry and Meridian could only score six points each, and while Brandon scored 24 points against the defense, Oak Grove limited Brandon’s offense enough to put it in position to get the win. Oak Grove’s special teams were the difference in that game, though.

“I think it starts with their defensive lineman,” Boyles said. “Those guys are playing really good right now, and they’re controlling the line of scrimmage and making it extremely tough for teams to run the football. To me, they’ve really picked it up on the defensive line.”

Petal’s defense has been playing well all season. Boyles has said multiple times that Petal’s offense not sustaining drives hurts the defense, and now that the offense is picking up more first downs and scoring more points, the defense isn’t on the field as much.

In the last four weeks, no team has scored double digits. Jim Hill scored 30 points the week before that streak, but the Panthers put in second and third string players early in the second half.

“To me, they’ve always played well all year,” Causey said. “They really haven’t played bad at any point of the season. They’re very sound and they’re good with what they do.”