The benefits of being the best in football often gives teams extra time to breathe and rest.
For Heritage Academy, that was exactly the case after winning the MAIS Class 5A, District 1 championship this year and getting the top seed in the Class 5A playoffs.
“I think it was monumental in certain ways,” Heritage Academy head coach Lance Pogue said. “It happened at a good time, so hopefully, we’ll be fresh and charged up after the long grind of this season.”
The grind of a football season can wear down almost anyone, and playing 10 consecutive weeks of football without a week of rest can be a daunting task.
This season, like last season’s state championship team, has seen the Patriots (9-1) meet the standard asked of them, scoring 35.3 points a game offensively and allowing 17.7 points a game defensively.
Their opponent on Friday, Pillow Academy (6-5), is a team that’s fresh in the minds of Heritage being that the two teams played two weeks ago in Greenwood, with the Pats coming out with a 35-17 victory.
Now, Heritage has the added benefit of hosting, and playing in front of the home crowd should be plenty of an added boost to propel the Pats onward in the playoffs.
New Albany (7-3) at Caledonia (4-6), MHSAA Class 4A playoffs, first round
In anything, especially sports, it’s not about how you start but how you finish, and Caledonia has done a fantastic job at embodying that mentality.
The Cavaliers (4-6) had a rough 1-5 start to the season, but since the start of district play, they have turned things around big time, winning three of their last four to secure a home game in the first round of the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs.
“Our kids understand what it takes to win,” Caledonia head coach Michael Kelly said. “We’ve played in these kind of games before. At the end of the day, there’s no tomorrow, so we have to leave everything out there in all three phases of the game.”
“If our kids play some good, inspiring football, I feel like we’ll give ourselves a chance in the end.”
The road doesn’t get much easier for Caledonia (4-6), taking on a 7-3 New Albany team that started out the season 5-1.
You have to go back to 1996 for the last time the Cavs and Bulldogs took on each other, with New Albany winning that game, 48-6. But more than 25 years later, Caledonia looks to flip that script and defend its home turf in winning fashion.
Amanda Elzy (5-5) at Noxubee County (6-4), MHSAA Class 3A playoffs, first round
Playoff time has arrived in Macon as Noxubee County hosts a first-round playoff game against Amanda Elzy after a strong finish to the 2022 season.
The Tigers (6-4) head into Friday night’s game winners of four of their last five games, and when it comes to head-to-head contests with Elzy, Noxubee County won, 40-6, Sept. 2 in Macon.
Most importantly, Noxubee County comes into this game as healthy as it can be, with impact players on both sides of the ball ready to go.
“It’s incredibly important to have your main guys healthy enough to at least suit up and play,” Noxubee County head coach Teddy Young said. “Playing good football and staying healthy, that’s the biggest thing.”
Playing good football toward the end of the year has been the Tigers’ bread and butter, averaging 42.2 points per game offensively in their last five games of the regular season.
Elzy heads into the playoffs riding a two-game losing streak, and Noxubee County hopes to make it three straight.
Grenada (5-5) at Starkville (7-3), 7 p.m. Thursday
A tough loss against Tupelo three weeks ago at home put Starkville in an 0-3 hole to begin district play, with the road to a playoff berth looking slim.
To have any chance of playing in the postseason, Starkville needed to win out and so far, they’ve accomplished 75 percent of that goal, winning three straight games.
The Yellow Jackets are now 3-3 in district play, looking to add a fourth straight win on Thursday night against Grenada.
“We’re starting to play some good football at the right time,” Starkville head coach Chris Jones said. “There’s no magic wand that you can wave. You just have to keep working at it, and these kids, they’ve never stopped. They’ve been working hard, especially during the losses.”
Starkville (7-3) has done what it can to control what it can and control its own destiny by getting results on the football field, which it has without question over the past three weeks.
Players have been getting healthy and impact players have returned to the lineup, a big reason the Yellow Jackets have outscored opponents 142-55 in their last three games.
Grenada gave Starkville a tough fight in 2021 in a 14-10 Jackets victory, so expect Thursday night to follow a similar script.
Vardaman (7-3) at West Lowndes (6-3), 7 p.m. Thursday
West Lowndes did what it needed to do two weeks ago to secure a playoff spot, dismantling Ethel, 58-26, on the road.
Now, coming off a bye week, something the Panthers needed after dealing with the flu bug and with injuries, they now host Vardaman on Thursday night in a major game for playoff seeding implications.
“I think we’re getting hot at the right time, playing good ball at the right time,” West Lowndes head coach Anthony King said. “This is definitely a playoff-like atmosphere and we still have something to prove and something to work for.”
With a West Lowndes (6-3) win and a Hamilton win over Sebastopol, the Panthers will secure a home game in the first round of the MHSAA Class 1A playoffs, an important advantage.
However, Vardaman has been equally as impressive this season, as both teams come into the game with identical 4-2 district records.
West Lowndes is currently 0-2 this season against teams who have already clinched a playoff spot within the district, and the Panthers are certainly not looking to make that 0-3.
It’s a playoff tune-up game and a great jumping-off point for what both teams hope will evolve into a lengthy postseason run.
Saltillo (3-7) at New Hope (3-6), 7 p.m. Thursday
District play has spelled disaster for New Hope after a promising 2-0 start to the season, beginning with a comeback victory over rival Caledonia.
The Trojans were riding high, but fortunes quickly changed as they’ve won just one game in district play, sporting a 1-5 record heading into Thursday night’s game against Saltillo.
Postseason aspirations have unfortunately faded into the distance, but for how this season has gone, there’s still one game left to help build upon heading into 2023.
“We’re trying to build something special here, and no, these seniors didn’t want to leave with a losing season, but they’re doing all the right things to help build in the right direction for the future,” New Hope head coach Seth Stillman said.
Thursday night is senior night and the final home game of the season for New Hope (3-6). The Trojans face an opponent in the Tigers that they handily beat last season, a 42-7 victory.
New Hope players and fans alike are hoping for a repeat of that this time around, and playing at home could make all the difference in the end.
Even with a win, Saltillo doesn’t have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Lake Cormorant to get the final district seed for the playoffs, so expect a hard-fought game from both sides for bragging rights and a positive finish to the season.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.