The stakes are raised this weekend as region play begins in the Mississippi High School Activities Association ranks for Classes 5A and 6A.
Region play for Class 1A has been underway for a couple of weeks. Classes 2A, 3A and 4A will get into their second seasons in October.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Association of Independent Schools are already knee-deep in district play, with several teams already battling for their postseason lives this weekend.
Here is a look at 10 of the area’s races and the highlight games to take note of in each race:
Region 2-6A: Starkville at Madison Central (Oct. 17)
Everyone remembers last season when Starkville knocked off Madison Central 45-42 on a controversial pass interference as time expired. An already intense rivalry went to another level after that offensive shootout.
Many are circling potential losses for top-ranked Starkville. However, the list of candidates is very short. Starkville will be rarely threatened in region play. However, this game does bear watching.
Also: Columbus at Starkville (Friday); Columbus at Clinton (Oct. 3)
Region 1-5A: Oxford at West Point (Friday)
In recent years, the Oxford-West Point contest has decided the Class 5A, Region 1 championship. After all, it is hard to fathom that a game in week one could have the largest impact in the region race.
However, last season, Oxford beat West Point 30-20 and the Chargers were then well on their way to barn-storming to the region title. It is safe to say this game will again be big, but that New Hope will have lots to say about this region race.
Also: New Hope at Oxford (Oct. 17); New Hope at West Point (Oct. 31)
Region 4-4A: Leake Central at Noxubee County (Oct. 10)
Noxubee County has owned the Region 4-4A race for a couple of seasons now. The Tigers have won 11 straight games dating back to the 2011 season. Each year, a contender emerges as Noxubee County’s biggest threat. This year the nod goes to unbeaten Leake Central.
Also: Noxubee County at Caledonia (Oct. 24); Kosciusko at Leake Central (Oct. 24)
Region 4-3A: Aberdeen at Kemper County (Oct. 10)
With the exception of its shutout loss to Noxubee County, Aberdeen has shown an ability to score points against just about anybody on their schedule. Kemper County is off to a 4-1 start and is allowing 12 points per game on defense. It will be interesting to see who wins this battle of wills.
Also: Louisville at Aberdeen (Oct. 17); Kemper County at Louisville (Oct. 24)
Region 1-1A: Hamilton at Smithville (Oct. 31)
When Monroe County rivals Hamilton and Smithville meet in athletic competition, it is always an intense struggle. Hamilton has already suffered a big blow in its region championship hopes with a loss to Falkner. Still, Hamilton will remain in the race and this contest could easily to decide hosting rights for the opening round of the playoffs.
Also: Smithville at Coffeeville (Oct. 10); Coffeeville at Hamilton (Nov. 7)
Region 3-1A: Pelahatchie at Nanih Waiya (Friday)
The Region 3-1A race once again centers on Pelahatchie, Nanih Waiya and defending state champion French Camp. Already the top and bottom of the region are already separating themselves. The biggest battle will be for the third and fourth playoff spots from this region. West Lowndes will be battling uphill to be in that consideration.
Also: West Oktibbeha at East Oktibbeha (Oct. 10); West Lowndes at Sebastopol (Oct. 24)
MAIS District 1-AAA: Heritage Academy at Starkville Academy (Oct. 24)
Heritage Academy will be looking for a third straight win in this rivalry series. However, this not be the best time to be picking on Starkville Academy. The Volunteers are off to a 5-0 start and have already crashed the academy rankings. With three district wins under their belt, Starkville Academy is zeroing in on a playoff berth. Heritage Academy will most likely need a win here to grab the other berth.
Also: Heritage Academy at Magnolia Heights (Oct. 31); Jackson Academy at Starkville Academy (Oct. 31)
MAIS District 2-AA: Oak Hill Academy at Leake Academy (Oct. 24)
Oak Hill Academy will most likely be playing for its playoff life when the Raiders travel to Leake Academy. Presently at 1-1 in district play, Oak Hill Academy has once again assembled a different schedule in hopes of at least obtaining a wild card playoff berth. With a senior-laden team, the Raiders want a district championship. A win here is a must to accomplish that goal.
Also: Leake Academy at Winston Academy (Oct. 3); Canton Academy at Oak Hill Academy (Oct. 17)
MAIS District 2-A: Columbus Christian at Deer Creek (Oct. 24)
Speaking of district champions, Columbus Christian set this season’s primary goal as winning a district championship in 11-man football for the first time in program history. Columbus Christian can move to 2-0 in district play by beating Greenville Christian Friday. Deer Creek won at the last minute a year ago and Columbus Christian will be ready for payback.
Also: Greenville Christian at Columbus Christian (Friday); Deer Creek at Greenville Christian (Oct. 3)
MAIS Eight-Man: Central Academy at Hebron Christian (Oct. 17)
If you have not seen an eight-man football game before, this contest is the one to make. After winning two games in each of the last two seasons combined, Central Academy is off to a 4-0 start. Hebron Christian is 2-2. Both teams have some good offensive firepower and one – if not both – of the district’s playoff berths will be on the line when these two teams meet.
Also: Hebron Christian at Kemper Academy (Oct. 10); Kemper Academy at Central Academy (Oct. 31)
Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.