September 17, 2020 9:39:44 PM
Starkville Academy football coach Chase Nicholson said the Volunteers have become a "mirror image" of Leake Academy -- and vice versa -- in recent years.
Both teams have similar playing and coaching styles, and the yearly games between the Rebels and Vols are always close (Starkville Academy won last year's home game 20-19, for example.)
So expect nothing different Friday when the two teams face off in Starkville again.
Leake comes into the game with a 4-0 record and No. 3 ranking in the MAIS, averaging 41.5 points per game in wins over Winston Academy, Jackson Academy, Lamar School and Hartfield Academy. Starkville Academy is 2-1, and its lone loss was in overtime at Lamar on Aug. 21.
Senior running back CJ Jackson, who hit nearly 300 yards in the Vols' win over Magnolia Heights last week, will be a key to opening up Nicholson's offense, the coach said.
"The better he is, the better we are in other places," Nicholson said. "The better we are in other places, the better he can be."
But no matter how Jackson performs, it'll come down to what close games always come down to: limiting mistakes on offense, defense and special teams.
"If we play a perfect football game, we win," Nicholson said. "If they play a perfect football game, they win. But we both know that nobody's going to play a perfect game, and so it's going to be who makes the fewest mistakes at the end of the day."
Columbus (0-2) at DeSoto Central (1-1)
Columbus High School has leveled up once again.
After playing Class 4A Louisville in Week 1 and Class 5A Holmes County Central last week, the Falcons play a Class 6A opponent -- DeSoto Central -- on Friday.
It's Columbus' third straight road game after two straight losses, and coach Joshua Pulphus said the long trips home from the first two games haven't been easy.
"Anytime you're on that bus and sit still for a long, long period of time, it kind of wears on you," Pulphus said Thursday.
The Falcons have a young offensive line -- Johnathan Dickerson is the team's only returning starter at the position -- and are still working on their offense, which has scored just six points in two games.
But Columbus' defense, led by Steve Cattledge, Chris Allen and Isaiah Harris, hasn't allowed 14 points in a game yet, a good sign.
If the Falcons can put together good performances from both units as well as their special teams, they've got a good shot of a win Friday against the Jaguars. DeSoto Central lost to Arlington (Tennessee) in Week 1 before beating Class 4A Pontotoc last week.
With a win Friday, Columbus can avoid falling to 0-3 ahead of its first home game of the season against rival New Hope on Sept. 25.
"I'm excited to see how we bounce back tomorrow," Pulphus said.
Bayou Academy (3-1) at Heritage Academy (3-1)
Heritage Academy and Bayou Academy bring identical records into Friday's homecoming game on Magnolia Lane, but last year's contest between the two teams was anything but close.
The Patriots whipped the Colts 40-7 last fall in Cleveland and hope for a repeat performance on Friday in Columbus.
But Bayou has turned things around from last year's 1-9 record, beating Indianola Academy, Lee Academy and Washington School before losing at top-ranked Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
Heritage Academy is looking for its fourth straight win after losing to Jackson Prep 41-13 in Week 1.
Aberdeen (0-2) at New Hope (0-2)
New Hope will be looking for its first win of the season when it hosts Aberdeen on Friday.
The Trojans lost to Itawamba Agricultural 27-19 last week after a season-opening loss at Houston on Sept. 4.
The Bulldogs have lost to South Pontotoc and Amory.
New Hope beat Aberdeen 51-0 last year in Aberdeen.
Holly Springs (1-1) at Caledonia (0-2)
Caledonia hasn't won a game yet this season, but coach Michael Kelly said that hasn't affected his team's effort during a strong week of practice.
"I thought we had a great week of preparation," Kelly said. "Our kids are still working hard although our record's 0-2."
Kelly and Caledonia know there are a few big things to clean up ahead of Friday's home game with Holly Springs. Namely, Kelly said, his team must improve its defense on third down, which hurt last week against Heritage Academy.
"We need to get off the grass and give it to our offense a little more," Kelly said.
He also said Caledonia has to be more efficient in its first-down offense to set up sophomore quarterback Daniel Wilburn better.
With Holly Springs, Caledonia will also be playing a new opponent in a new location. Its original game was scheduled to be on the road at Nettleton, but the Tigers had to cancel due to COVID-19. Kelly searched for a team with an open date Friday and found that Holly Springs was willing to travel.
"Any time we can play at home, it's an exciting time for our kids," Kelly said.
Meridian (0-2) at Starkville (2-0)
Top-ranked Starkville should have no problem against winless Meridian in Friday's home game.
The Yellow Jackets beat the Wildcats 57-0 in Meridian last year, and Starkville is just as talented if not even more.
Meridian did keep it within 10 points against top-five Class 5A school Picayune before losing by 28 to South Panola, but the Yellow Jackets have wins against West Point and Louisville and should have little trouble Friday.
West Lowndes (1-1) at Nanih Waiya (2-0)
West Lowndes has some momentum coming off what coach Anthony King called an "impressive showing" at Hamilton last week.
But the Panthers will need more than confidence to beat top-ranked Nanih Waiya on Friday in Louisville.
The Warriors have won two straight MHSAA Class 1A titles and have shown no signs of falling off this year.
"They don't do a lot to beat themselves, so you really have to go out and just take it to them, be physical and play fundamental football," King said.
He said the Panthers will have to fix the turnover issues that led to their 35-24 loss to the Warriors last year in Columbus and clean up the problems that still bugged them in last week's win: lining up wrong on offensive and forgetting some of the offensive plays.
If West Lowndes can do that, it stands a chance to win against Nanih Waiya on Friday, King said.
"That's a big, tall task, but I think this team is ready for it," he said.
Deer Creek Academy (0-3) at Columbus Christian Academy (0-4)
Columbus Christian Academy remains winless heading into Friday's home game against Deer Creek Academy.
The Warriors are also winless with losses to Sharkey-Issaquena Academy, Porter's Chapel Academy and Humphreys Academy.
Columbus Christian was shut out at Marvell Academy (Arkansas) last week.
Winston Academy (2-2) at Oak Hill Academy (1-2)
Oak Hill Academy will play its first home game of the season Friday against Winston Academy in West Point.
The Raiders were scheduled to host Newton County Academy on Sept. 4, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns with the Generals.
Oak Hill lost to Tunica Academy on the road last week.
Winston claims losses to Leake Academy and Winona Christian as well as wins over East Rankin Academy and Sylva-Bay Academy.
Kemper Academy (0-3) at Hebron Christian (0-4)
Hebron Christian goes for its first win at home Friday against district opponent Kemper Academy, also winless.
The Eagles are 0-4 after losing to Delta Academy 50-14 last week in Marks.
Kemper Academy has lost to Sharkey-Issaquena Academy, Prentiss Christian and Manchester Academy this year.
Tabernacle (Ala.) Christian (0-2) at Victory Christian Academy (0-1)
Victory Christian Academy seeks its first win of the year after losing last week's opener.
The Eagles fell to Russell Christian Academy 39-18 in Meridian and hope to right the ship at 1-1 Friday.
They'll face winless Tabernacle Christian (Alabama) on Friday in Columbus.
Alabama: Abbeville Christian Academy (2-1) at Pickens Academy (4-0)
Pickens Academy (Alabama) has a chance to keep up its undefeated start to the season Friday when it hosts Abbeville Christian Academy (Alabama) in Carrollton.
Abbeville owns a win over Springwood, a loss to Chambers Academy and a win over Lowndes Academy so far this season.
Pickens shut out Snook Academy (Alabama) 40-0 last week in Carrollton.
Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports and Mississippi State softball for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.