MABEN — The next step in two teams” paths to a possible championship game will renew one of the state”s brewing rivalries.
Former Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A district rivals East Webster and Calhoun City have made a flawless transition to the 2A ranks since reclassification in 2009.
They”ve met in the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, with the Wolverines winning last year (28-14) and the Wildcats winning in 2008 (14-7). Calhoun City atoned for a rematch of East Webster”s 22-21 win in district play and finished the season as Class 1A state runner-up.
Last season, both teams worked through senior turnover and met as six-win teams in the third round of the playoffs. The Wolverines barely made the playoffs with a 1-4 district mark.
Tonight, the teams will meet as undefeated rivals (both are 13-0) looking to clinch a spot in the 2A North State title game.
The matchup is a familiar scenario and one everyone expected, Calhoun City coach Perry Liles said.
“I did look at it like that, knowing we”d meet the best team, which is East Webster,” Liles said. “We knew it would be before North Half. We just hoped it would work out that we would have it at Calhoun City, and as luck would have it that”s how it”s worked out. That helps us a lot. It”s hard to win at East Webster.”
East Webster last won at Calhoun City in ”07.
Three East Webster seniors — Demetrius O”Briant, Lilton Vance, and Xavier Moye — started for Jimmy Carden”s ”08 squad. Though they knocked Calhoun City out of the playoffs the following season, there”s a more prevalent memory of facing the Wildcats, Carden said.
“They felt like they had about as good as team as we could ever have,” Carden said. “Is it going to be our best opportunity to go to Jackson? And then you go up there and Calhoun City beats you. You walk off the field wondering if you”ll ever have a chance to be that good again. Here we are back with that opportunity. I know in their mind they don”t want to let it slip away this time.”
Liles said the rivalry spreads across all sports, but he admits the football games have been playoff classics. He likened his school”s strong fan base and competitiveness in all sports to the support fans give to East Webster”s teams.
“This is a great rivalry, and one our community is optimistic about, even more optimistic than we are sometimes,” Liles joked. “I always have said we need to focus on and win this game this week, and now East Webster is the game this week. This is always a physical game and always has a great turnout. (Tonight) will be no different.”
Armed with J.R. Jennings, Class 2A”s top quarterback, the Wildcats feature the most balanced offense the Wolverines have faced this season. Jennings has 2,300 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and completes 73 percent of his passes. East Webster hasn”t faced a passer of Jennings” caliber since West Oktibbeha”s Von Smith in Week 2.
Calhoun City running back Avery Hill has 811 yards and 13 touchdowns, which creates a tough offensive challenge for a senior-led defense.
“That”s a team that”s always going to be big, strong, and talented,” Carden said. “We knew we were gonna have to play them, and knew we”d have to play on the road at some point. That”s about as tough a place as you can play.”
Liles has seen East Webster”s offense evolve, noting its perfection of the option in two base formations. He believes the key to stopping the option is limiting quarterback Ledrick Patterson on pitches to running back O”Briant.
“They”re a little bit unique in that they run it out of the Power I most of the time,” Liles said. “Last year, they ran the same plays out of the spread formation, so (Patterson) is very experienced at running the option. They”re difficult to stop, and we”re going to have our hands full because we have to respect the fullback and the tailback.”
Patterson has 871 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns. O”Briant leads the team with 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The winner will advance to face the winner of tonight”s game between Coahoma County and West Bolivar.