Even this late in the football season, most of are wondering just how good certain teams are. Five come to my mind: Bruce, Itawamba AHS, Smithville, Starkville, and Walnut. This Friday ought to tell us a whole lot about each of them.
Bruce (7-1, 3-0 Region 2-2A): The Trojans host Eupora (8-0, 3-0) in a game that will likely decide the region title. At season’s start, Bruce was a team that leaned heavily on its junior tailback, Richard Freelon, and a pretty good defense. Coach James Ray said the rest of his offense is finally coming around, and Eupora coach Junior Graham is impressed with that unit’s execution. I think Bruce is a 2A title contender, and this could very well be a preview of the North final.
Itawamba AHS (7-1, 4-0 Region 1-4A): The Indians have a mix of experience and youth – most of it quite talented – and a proven winner in coach Jamie Mitchell. But this is a program with little tradition, and it faces the tradition-rich Shannon Red Raiders (8-0, 4-0), the Daily Journal’s No. 1 large school, in a road game Friday. Shannon’s passing game hasn’t been slowed this year, and IAHS must get some bodies in the backfield to even have a chance. This will be a measuring stick for Shannon, too, which has had its share of cupcake games.
Starkville (5-3, 3-1 Region 1-5A): It looks like the Yellowjackets’ offense is starting to figure things out. After averaging 17.0 ppg over their first four games, coach Bill Lee’s squad is putting up 35.5 since. Starkville has won three of four, the lone loss a heart-breaking 38-35 setback to Tupelo. Starkville’s defense has been OK, but Olive Branch (7-1, 3-1) is averaging 38.6 ppg (although Horn Lake held the Quistors to 13 last week).
Smithville (6-2, 5-2 Region 1-1A): The Seminoles struggled to a 5-6 finish last year, coach Bubba Tacker’s first. He’s trying to restore the glory the program enjoyed for so long under Dwight Bowling. The losses this year were to first-place East Webster and second-place Okolona, so Smithville hasn’t beaten a quality opponent. This week’s game against Calhoun City (6-2, 6-2) should determine the No. 3 playoff seed.
Walnut (8-0, 3-0 Region 1-2A): The Wildcats should beat Hamilton (4-4, 2-1), but my question is, how badly? Baldwyn beat the Lions 31-0 last week, so this game should reveal something about Walnut, which will face Baldwyn on Nov. 2 with the region title on the line. Walnut has great athletes, like Gavin Luster and Jacob Sesma, but it’s tough to gauge how good they or the rest of the team are when their opponents’ combined record is 10-52 (.161; yikes).