• John Macon Gillespie

GoW: The Ground Game

The SES week 8 Game of the Week pits two teams ranked in the top 5 in the 5A rankings. Picayune(6-0, 2-0) recently stayed at four in the SES top 10, but has sit atop the 5A rankings for weeks now. Meanwhile, Hattiesburg(5-2, 2-0) started the season on top of class 5A, but now sits at fourth in the SES class 5A rankings.

Both teams can attribute much of their success to the running game, though, that serves as an understatement for the Maroon Tide. The Tigers have found more balanced, thanks in large part to the play of their quarterback Julian Conner.

Hattiesburg averages over 500 yards per game, with nearly 265 coming through the air and just under 258 on the ground. That is some kind of impressive balance. On the other side, Picayune is averaging nearly 358 rushing yards per game. Josh Littles, a Fortius Project alum, has toted it for 100 yards or more in all six games this season.

Conner isn’t the only dynamic playmaker for the Tigers on the ground. In fact, he is one of four ball carriers to have at least 200 yards this season. That group is led, of course, by perhaps the state’s best junior, Fabian Franklin, SES’s preseason pick for 5A Player of the Year. Additionally, eight different ball carriers have reached the endzone this season.

So far this season Franklin has rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns, good for 83 yards per game. Sophomore Drexlan Allen has added 426 yards plus three scores. Then there’s Conner who has five scoring rushed to with his 302 rushing yards. Lastly, Jarod Conner has added 229 yards and two scores in the Tigers’ previous two contests against West Harrison and Long Beach.

For Picayune, the rushing attack has been somewhat spread around, as well, though Littles is the featured guy. In 2016 11 different rushers have scored touchdowns, with four players having multiple scoring runs. Then there are three rushers with 277 yards or more.

Littles has totaled 1,165 yards and 14 scores on 134 carries, good for an impressive 8.7 yards per carry. He averages over 194 yards per game, over half the Tide’s yards per game on the ground.

The supporting cast has been effective, too, though Picayune doesn’t get the rushing production from the quarterback position that Hattiesburg does. Junior Shaun Anderson has rushed for 304 yards and three touchdowns, while senior Blake Merrifield has added 277 yards and five scores.

It is more than obvious that the running game will have it’s prints all over this contest. It will greatly affect not only the clock, but also the outcome of the game. Who will prevail when two teams that run the ball as well as both of these teams do? Fridaywill hold the answer.

**Photo by Mark Magee.

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