It’s never a normal week when Oak Grove and Petal square off on the football field, but a win or loss doesn’t have any more of an impact than any other game on the schedule.
The Warriors are coming off a win over George County to start region play, while the Panthers fell to Pearl last week. The Warriors want to move to 2-0 in one of the toughest regions in the state, while the Panthers can’t afford to drop to 0-2. But, most importantly, the Warriors want to stop the Panthers’ two-game winning streak in the heated series.
“It’s a big game,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “It’s a crosstown rival and all that stuff. It’s a very important district game, so right now it’s the biggest game of the season for us.”
From all accounts, these two teams are on very different paths. Oak Grove started the season hot before running into a buzz saw against Hattiesburg. However, it bounced back with another big win last week to get back on track. Petal, on the other hand, started the season winless through the first three games before taking down Laurel. It reverted back to its old ways last week, though, struggling on offense and getting worn down on defense against Pearl.
Not extending drives on third downs and three turnovers hurt the Panthers in a 28-10 loss to the Pirates.
“It was just a host of things on offense that went wrong the other night,” Petal coach Marcus Boyles said. “Defensively, I thought we played well even though it looks like we didn’t. We didn’t play great, but I thought we played good enough. They were just on the field too much because offensively we couldn’t get anything going.”
Despite the struggles, this week is a new week, and there’s a sense of rejuvenation when a game with Oak Grove looms on Friday. There’s excitement in the air for both teams, and even though there should be a maximum amount of focus each week in practice, there’s no doubt there’s a little more this week.
“I know with the kids and the people (in town), certainly,” Boyles said of the excitement. “For us coaches, we’re just trying to get a lot of issues fixed and making sure we’re putting our guys in the best position to win a football game.”
The Panthers’ offense has some new faces since the last time Causey and the Warriors matched up with them on the field. Junior quarterback DeCarlos Nicholson and junior running back Rashad Handford are two key new pieces, and even junior Micah McGowan played sparingly against the Warriors last year.
When Causey watched Petal on film, he doesn’t think the 1-4 record tells the whole story.
“They’ve played some really good competition like we have,” he said. “For whatever reason, their record doesn’t show how good they are. Offensively, their quarterback throws it well and he’s always a threat to pull it down and run it. He’s very athletic. I know it’s going to be a heck of a game and they’re going to play really well Friday night.”
Petal’s defense has played well this season, but it’s been a product of being on the field too long. The offense hasn’t sustained drives, which gives the defensive players very little rest throughout the game. After a while, opponents are able to wear down the defense and pull away late, and that was the case last week against Pearl, too.
Petal will have to stop Oak Grove quarterback John Rhys Plumlee this week in order to see success, however. This is the third time Boyles and his defense will face Plumlee, and Petal has won both of the prior meetings. But, Plumlee has put up impressive numbers regardless.
“We can’t put too much attention on him, even though he is a great player,” Boyles said. “They have really good players around him, and I think that’s what you see sometimes. People put so much attention on them and he does such a good job of getting the ball to other guys who can make plays.
“It’s kind of a catch-22 type of deal. You always want to know where he is, but at the same time, whoever is supposed to be covering the slot receiver, better be covering the slot receiver. You can’t have your eyes in the backfield on Plumlee because he’ll hit you with a big pass.”
An emerging weapon on offense has been senior Jarius Reimonenq. Known for his defensive back abilities, he caught a 42-yard pass earlier this season before snagging three passes for 61 yards in last week’s win over George County. On top of that, the Arkansas State commit has three interceptions and two pass breakups through the first five games.
It hasn’t been too difficult for Reimonenq to juggle offensive and defensive duties in the practice, Causey said, which is a testament to what Reimonenq means to this team.
“I’m very proud of him and the way he’s played,” Causey said. “Him being able to understand what we’re doing on both sides of the ball, it’s really helped. We try to have a couple of different spots in practice where we’ll take him on offense, then he’ll play some defense during the other times. We always try to have some spots where we’ll work him in on that side of the ball.”