SES Staff Picks: State Championship Edition
The time has come.
The state championships start this morning on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and our staff, including guest picker Cal Brown (whose picks aren't featured in the explanations below, but you can see them on the graphic above), have weighed in on who they think will take home the hardware for each classification.
6A: Horn Lake vs. Oak Grove (Fri., 7 p.m.)
JMake : After seeing Horn Lake play in person a couple of weeks ago, I am a big believer in what they have going on both sides of the football. The Eagle defense gets a ton of credit and rightfully so, but Horn Lake's offense is also very impressive. Quarterback Raydarious Jones and running back Patrick Gilliam have put on a show this season, and I think they'll perform well on the big stage in Hattiesburg. Although Oak Grove has an Elite 10 quarterback in John Rhys Plumlee, I believe Horn Lake's defense keeps the Warrior offense bottled up and comes home with their first state title in school history. PICK: Horn Lake
Rowdy: Although this game might have the biggest gap as far as travel goes, this game should be a even match for the most part. Key word here: should. This is the only game this weekend featuring E10 members. Those players, Oak Grove quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, and Horn Lake linebacker Nakobe Dean, symbolize the key matchup in this game as a whole: Oak Grove’s offense vs. Horn Lake’s defense. This Eagle offense is also pretty darn good too. Raydarious Jones (QB) has become one of the more dynamic playmakers in the state as of late. I think the biggest advantage that Oak Grove has is home field (sort of) and championship experience. Horn Lake has never been on this stage, but they are ridiculously talented, maybe the most talented team in the state from top to bottom. This one will be close, but I think Horn Lake wins their first state title and puts a stamp on this long process of building a championship contending team. If I had to put a score on it, I’d say Horn Lake by two.
PICK: Horn Lake
Walker: Defense, defense, and more defense. Horn Lake got here with a 16-7 win over Madison Central in a mud bowl. The defense is faster, more athletic, and as fundamentally sound as any defense in the state. Having seen a true dual threat last week against Madison Central, they will be prepared for John Rhys Plumlee and an electric Oak Grove offense. Nakobe Dean will be a difference maker on both sides of the ball. Raydarious Jones will make some big plays with his legs, and Horn Lake will win their first ever state title game.
PICK: Horn Lake
Mack: Horn Lake continues to prove me wrong each week, defeating my Preaseason 6A Champion pick earlier this postseason in Starkville. Oak Grove upset the Brandon Bulldogs to get to the big game. Oak Grove will have the home field advantage in this one, and they’ll need it against a solid Horn Lake team led by future-collegiate-star Nakobe Dean and company. I’ll take the Warriors in a big upset in arguably the biggest game of the weekend. Look for John Rhys Plumlee to have a big-time performance in this one for Oak Grove.
PICK: Oak Grove
5A: West Point vs. West Jones (Sat., 7 p.m.)
JMake: I, along with most media members, had written this matchup off as being between the Green Wave and Hattiesburg, but West Jones knocked off the Tigers two weeks ago in an upset. Now, the Mustangs have the privilege of taking on the back-to-back state champions. Although the Green Wave's long win streak was ended by Starkville earlier this season, West Point has had an impressive season and has had to win some close games along the way. I think that the Green Wave are too talented and too experienced on this stage to fall, so I think they get it done on Saturday.
PICK: West Point
Rowdy: I think it is safe to say that this West Jones defense may possibly be the best the Green Wave has faced all year long. The Mustangs gave us a clinic on how to smother Hattiesburg’s offensive juggernaut for almost the whole 48 minutes. That in itself should indicate that these guys are something else, just like Byron Young on the defensive line. However, with the way West Point runs their offense, they can wear teams out, and they’ve done that quite a bit this season. West Point also has plenty of weapons of choice: Brandon Harris, Dantaryius Cannon and Jimothy Mays. I think their depth and championship experience will be the biggest difference. I like the Green Wave to add a 10th gold ball to their trophy case and join South Panola in the double digit club. I say West Point by 13.
PICK: West Point
Walker: Most people are feeling West Point in this one, but I decided to go with the upset. West Jones quarterback Alan Follis has completed 61 percent of his passes this year and has also only thrown four interceptions. His ability to spread the ball around could spread the West Point defense out and cause all kinds of problems for the Green Wave. The Mustangs have thrived in the underdog role once already in the postseason upsetting Hattiesburg 37-14, and I think they get another upset over West Point on Saturday night.
PICK: West Jones
Mack: Most people expected West Point to have a down year this year following the losses of E10 member Marcus Murphy and Chris Calvert among many other big time starters. Coach Chamblee and the Green Wave had no intentions of having a down year, however, and West Point is back in the 5A State Championship game. They’ll be taking on West Jones who upset my 5A Preseason State Champion pick, Hattiesburg. I just don’t see West Point’s dynasty stopping anytime soon, and I’ll take the Green Wave by a lot.
PICK: West Point
4A: Louisville vs. Poplarville (Sat., 11 a.m.)
JMake: Ever since Louisville's strong showing in their fall jamboree, I have been a big believer in them. The Wildcats will have their hands full on Saturday, however, with the rushing attack of Poplarville. Juniors Chase Shears and Ethan Taylor lead the team in rushing yards and have combined for 26 touchdowns on the ground this season. Louisville's defense is formidable, however, and has 105 tackles for loss this season. I think that this stout defense along with a strong Wildcat offense get the job done for Louisville in a close one on Saturday morning.
Rowdy: Oh boy, we have a perennial powerhouse vs. an up-and-comer in class 4A. The Hornets have lit up scoreboards all over southern Mississippi just like when they played for a state title two years ago and lost to Lafayette. This year, they get to run that well-oiled running machine into a Louisville defense that is down right scary, especially with Charles Moore lining up at DE. The Wildcats have recorded SIX SHUTOUTS on the year. However, I think being asked to shutout this Poplarville offense is too tall of a task, especially with their Wing-T approach run by Chase Shears and Ethan Taylor. It was tough to pick, but I think in this one, the more experienced state title team wins. In this case, that would be Louisville. I think head coach M.C. Miller rides into the sunset with a six point victory.
Walker: Why the Wildcats win: Kevon Jackson. When Poplarville and Louisville take the field on Saturday, Kevon Jackson will be the best player on the field. With an outstanding effort from the offensive line, Jackson will eclipse 100 yards for the eighth time of the season, and rush for multiple scores. I like Louisville to roll to a 4A state championship.
Mack: Most people throughout the state, including myself, have had Louisville winning 4A since the preseason. I’m not going to go against that prediction, so give me the Wildcats by a couple scores. Louisville has one of the most impressive defenses in the entire state, and a 1,000-yard rusher in Kevon Jackson leads the Louisville offense. Poplarville continues to make deep runs year in and year out, but I just think the Wildcats' defense will be too much for the Hornets.
3A: Water Valley vs. Seminary (Fri., 11 a.m.)
JMake: Water Valley has put together a Cinderella season in 2018. The Blue Devils got revenge on North Panola last week after the Cougars blew them out to secure a region title back in October. Kenterrious Rucker and Jacob Truss have had solid seasons offensively for Water Valley, and I think that continues this morning. I believe Nathan Pickering and Seminary make this one close, but I like the Blue Devils to pull it out in the end.
PICK: Water Valley
Rowdy: Now this game might be the best and more interesting matchup all weekend. This is a Seminary team that we at SES figured might be the team to get past JDC in the South Half. Sure enough, they knocked off the defending 3A champs and will play for a state title for the first time since 2003 when they won it all. Water Valley, on the other hand, came out of the shadows and dominated on defense en route to playing for a state championship for the first time since 1990, when they won it all. Mack mentioned at the beginning of the season that this team could be a dark horse, and they proved themselves to be. To sum this one up, it is perhaps the best defensive player in 3A and perhaps the best defensive lineman this weekend vs. perhaps the best defensive unit as a whole in 3A. I think this one has a chance to be low scoring, but Water Valley is richer when it comes to weapons on offense with guys like Tay Rucker and Bud Tolbert. That being said, I think it will be close, but Water Valley will prevail. Devils by eight.
PICK: Water Valley
Walker: Why Seminary wins: the running game. The Blue Devils have been stingy defensively all season long, but they haven't faced a rushing attack this potent this season. The Bulldogs have two rushers of over 1,200 yards in Jordan Barrett and Marquis Crosby. Both are extremely fast around the edges, and their speed is going to give the Water Valley defense fits. In what could turn into an offensive battle, the run game should give the Bulldogs the edge.
Mack: Water Valley is probably one of the most surprising stories out of the 12 teams to reach Hattiesburg this season. Led by a strong defense all year and an opportunistic offense led by the rushing attack of Jacob Truss and Tay Rucker. Seminary made it here with Mississippi State committ Nathan Pickering anchoring their defense, and a hard to stop wing-T offense that’s averaging over 300 yards rushing per game. I’ll take the Blue Devils in a close one.
PICK: Water Valley
2A: Scott Central vs. Taylorsville (Sat. 3 p.m.)
JMake: The Rebels took it to Calhoun City last week in a 27-0 final and forced numerous turnovers in the rainy weather. Coming into the season, I felt like Taylorsville had no real competition that stood in the way of them and another state title, but that changed last week when phenom sophomore quarterback Ty Keyes injured his ankle. I believe his injury is too much for the Tartars to overcome, and I like Scott Central to pull off the mini upset.
PICK: Scott Central
Rowdy: It’s a great running game vs. a great passing passing game. Unfortunately for the defending 2A champion Tartars, their sensational QB1, Ty Keyes, will likely not play in this game due to an ankle injury last week. Let’s not lie to ourselves, that is a massive blow for Taylorsville. Don’t get me wrong, Taylorsville still has an outstanding unit regardless with Keyon Bass and Raven Arrington. Also, they have a knack for good quarterbacks in general. However, this Scott Central team is stacked on both sides of the ball. That two-headed monster of Treyon Wash and Jabrelynn Vivians will be so hard to handle. The way the Rebels also bullied Calhoun City is also proof that these boys are tough. Give me the Rebels by 10.
PICK: Scott Central
Walker: Ty Keyes’ injury and Scott Central’s defense will be the difference in this one. Taylorsville has rolled to a 15-0 record this season, but they are going to have to try and win the state championship with their backup quarterback. Scott Central’s defense has been incredible this year only allowing 8.3 points per game. Taylorsville would have had their hands full with Ty Keyes, but without him it’ll be that much tougher.
PICK: Scott Central
Mack: I’ve been on the Tartar hype train ever since seeing Ty Keyes in person last season as Taylorsville defeated Winona in the 2017 2A State Title game. Keyes has an electric arm and will leave his name well-represented in the Mississippi record books before he’s done playing. Unfortunately for Taylorsville, Keyes will miss this game due to an ankle injury, and because of that I’m going to go with Scott Central. Head Coach Devin Cooper and Scott Central have accepted the running back by committee approach and it has worked very well for them. QB Treyon Wash heads the Rebels rushing attack alongside Jabrelynn Vivians with several other capable runners.
1A: Simmons vs. Nanih Waiya (Fri., 3 p.m.)
JMake: 54-straight and three-straight. That's how many games and state titles Simmons has won in a row, respectively. When I saw Nanih Waiya play earlier this season, I was immediately under the impression that they were the best team in 1A South, and they seem to have proven that. The Warriors came close to ending Simmons' win streak last year in the state title game, but fell just short in a 22-20 final. While I think this one is close again, I just believe Simmons is too powerful on offense to be completely stopped. I like the Blue Devils to make it 55 and four-straight.
Rowdy: Now, there may be some people out there who may call this a David vs. Goliath matchup because one of these teams just so happen to have the nation’s longestwinning streak. I, on the other hand, don’t think so. Both teams have been flat out dominant this year on both sides of the ball. I think the difference in this one is the Warrior rushing attack (327 YPG) and a motivation to finish stronger after blowing a two-score lead in the fourth quarter in last year’s title game. Simmons should give Nanih Waiya all they can handle because of playmakers like Demarrius Turner, but I think the Warriors make history this Friday.
PICK: Nanih Waiya
Walker: The Warriors' running game and experience will be crucial in this one. They have two backs that exceed 1,300 yards and have led an overall potent offense. The running backs are going to find success early against a legit Simmons defense and help lead them to a win. Also, forgive the Warriors, but they have been here before. They had Simmons 14 points with 11 minutes to go in the state title game last year. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and the Warriors will get the job done.
PICK: Nanih Waiya
Mack: Give me Simmons and their beautiful helmets in this one. Nanih Waiya shocked a lot of people last year and almost upset Simmons in the 2017 1A State Championship. I look for Simmons to be more focused and not take the Warriors for granted this go around. Tyderius Gibson is the key in this one, leading the Blue Devils' dynamic passing attack while also being a threat on the ground, and he’ll be tough to stop. Also keep an eye on Demarrius Turner; the 1500+ yard rusher has an outstanding senior season for Simmons.