Get the tour buses ready. Make sure everything is coordinated because the West Lowndes High School football team’s bandwagon is gearing up for a long run this season.
Confidence like that isn’t new at West Lowndes. In recent years, Panthers have talked about what they and their teams hoped to accomplish. But this year might be different. Not only is West Lowndes riding its first four-game winning streak since 2010, but it also is making the most of being in a new district — Class 1A, Region 1. The new home has enabled West Lowndes to escape one of the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s toughest regions — Region 3 — where perennial powers like Nanih Waiya, Noxapater, Pelahatchie, and French Camp reigned.
“We have some good kids,” West Lowndes coach Anthony King said. “They don’t complain or talk back. It took a while to break that cycle. We have good coaches out here, and we are just trying to make sure the kids are all in and buy into what we want to do. They just want to play.”
West Lowndes (4-2) will try to extend its winning streak to five at 7 tonight when it plays host to Heritage Academy (2-4) in a MHSAA-Mississippi Association of Independent Schools matchup. Heritage Academy has won the first two meetings in the series (21-8 last season and 40-6 in 2013).
The matchup will give West Lowndes a chance to win five games in a row for the first time since 2001, when it beat Thrasher, Biggersville, B.L. Moor, Hamilton, and Falkner. West Lowndes already has defeated Biggersville and Falkner this season. Those wins have helped West Lowndes get off to a 3-0 start in Region 1.
King said his team is gearing up for the biggest tests in the region against Smithville, which will come next week, and Coffeeville. He also said Vardaman figures to be in the mix for one of the region’s four playoff spots. West Lowndes will attempt to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2012, when it advanced after West Oktibbeha County High was ruled ineligible for the playoffs when its school district lost its accreditation.
King said a fast, athletic defense has been a calling card all season. He said the team moved from a triple option to a spread attack that includes elements of the Wing-T early in the season after the team struggled to score. He said the team transitioned to the new offense, which actually is a system the team used to run, in a 28-8 loss to Starkville Academy on Aug. 28. Since that game, West Lowndes has rattled off 48, 46, 30, and 26 points.
King said the team’s familiarity with the offense helped ease the transition.
“We had to do something,” King said. “The guys have stuck to it. We scored pretty good with it last year, but it didn’t work in the spring.”
King said the recent success has bolstered the confidence of a battered team. He said running back Syboris Pippin, running back/linebacker Jerry Anderson, and defensive end/linebacker Tyzavaya Harris will miss tonight’s game due to injuries. He said he hopes to get Pippin and Anderson back next week.
Tonight, King said the absence of those players will push other guys emerge, which has been the case all season.
“The guys believe they can pretty much win them all,” King said. “We are definitely trying to keep the streak going because everything goes a little better when you’re winning, and we haven’t been winning much around here lately, so it is good to finally get a change.”
Sophomore Quinshawn Lucious, a transfer from Columbus High, is leading the Panthers at quarterback. He said the team has jelled around him and has made him feel comfortable. He said he feels the switch the offense fits the Panthers because they have a lot of playmakers.
“The winning streak has given us a lot of confidence,” Lucious said. “People doubted us and said we weren’t going to be anything. Now everybody is hopping on the bandwagon as soon as we started winning.”
The streak also has attracted plenty of fans. Lucious, defensive tackle Lavante Porter, and linebacker Lemerrius Fair joked earlier in the week that “thousands” of fans have hopped on the team’s bandwagon, so the Panthers have to get several tour buses to accommodate all of them.
Porter said the difference this season is the Panthers have put all of their differences aside to shoot for a common goal: a state championship. He said the Panthers have talked and realize they always have the talent. He said the players are working together and the hard work is translating to success on the field.
“It is great,” Porter said. “Even when other people don’t believe in us, as a team we believe in each other. You have to have each others’ backs when nobody else has your back. That is what we are inspired to do. We try not to put each other down. We try to be there for each other.
“There hasn’t been that much fighting. It is great. The chemistry is amazing. I love these guys. I have their back and they have mine.”
Fair agrees and said West Lowndes isn’t going to get overconfident and reserve those tour buses for the trip to Oxford and the state title game just yet. But West Lowndes plans to use that new-found confidence and its new attitude to attract even more followers. By December, the Panthers might need a fleet of tour buses for all of their fans.
“Now that we are winning, everybody wants to get back to the West Lowndes Panthers, but we knew in the summer we could do this,” Fair said.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.