Photo/James Pugh

Smell that? The freshly cut south Mississippi grass on the local football fields. It signifies that the preseason hype and chatter has come to an end . . . it’s time for kick-off to the 2018 season. There have been some scrimmages and jamborees, but things really heat up this weekend – it really counts now!

Taylorsville at Northeast Jones: Tartars alum Mitch Evans takes over as head coach for Chuck Robertson, who moved on to another career choice after leading Taylorsville to a 2A state title last season. That’s a tough act to follow, but Evans is considered by those in the know to be up to the task. He served as offensive coordinator during the title campaign, so this is not his first rodeo. He also quarterbacked THS to two state titles (if I remember correctly) back in the mid-90s. He knows what to do. His young star quarterback, Ty Keyes, is back after throwing for 45 TDs last year and leading his team to a 15-1 record. Keyes is talented enough that he could probably play catch with the water boys and beat some teams. NEJ is not one of those teams, but the Tigers will have their hands full with this aerial attack.

NEJ lost to Taylorsville, 29-19, last year, and that loss started a four-game skid to open the season for the Tigers. A better start may facilitate a better ending for Head Coach Keith Braddock & Crew. The Tigers’ defense was generous in 2017, giving up about 30 points per game . . . Coach Braddock won’t be happy if that happens again! The Tigers’ defense will be severely tested this first week against Keyes. If they can contain the Super Soph, they will likely get the W. If Keyes picks up where he left off in December, then sheesh, this could be a tough opener for NEJ.

Prediction: Taylorsville 26, NEJ 21

Laurel hosts Callaway: It’s time for the Tornadoes to start another season . . . yawn! Why the emphasis on the “start?” Well, Laurel football sometimes gets off to a slow start, like last year when they exited the second weekend of October with a 4-4 record. They didn’t lose again until Hattiesburg ended their season in the South State finals. By the way, part of the slow starts for LHS could be attributed to the arduous non-conference slate of games they play. This LHS coaching crew led by Head Coach Todd Breland is very good. They put their kids in positions to win games, and the kids respond. That’s why I hardly pay attention if Laurel starts a season off with a few losses. They will catch fire at some point! Now, if this Laurel team could get focused and pretend like August and September is October, then 2018 could be very special for the Tornadoes. I’m not sure how all the games in August and September will unfold for Laurel, but this first one is going their way.

Prediction: Laurel 22, Callaway 10

South Jones hosts Sumrall: The Bobcats travel to Ellisville Friday night looking for some revenge after last year’s 36-0 shellacking at the hands of the Braves. South Jones will be operating under new Head Coach Roger Satcher for the first time. The Braves return senior QB John Mitchell but lost much of the supporting cast around him. Some young talent we haven’t heard a lot about on the Braves’ roster will have to grow up fast for SJ to be successful this season. For Sumrall it all begins and ends with Dannis Jackson. Jackson is being recruited as a wide receiver in college, but he will likely take some, if not all, the snaps at QB for the Bobcats Friday night. Regardless of where he lines up, he will attract plenty of attention from the Braves’ defense. Jackson likely does just enough to push his team over the hosts this week.

Prediction: Sumrall 17, South Jones 13

West Jones hosts Wayne County: Shelton Gandy returns home to lead the War Eagles. If Gandy coaches like he played, then watch out . . . 5A may have a new challenger for the crown this year. Fortunately for West Jones Head Coach Scott Pierson’s gang, Gandy at least won’t be running the football, which he did so well in his playing days at WCHS and at Southern Miss (nearly 2,700 yards from scrimmage and 26 TDs at USM). Pierson may want to alert the refs if he see Gandy trying to slip on a helmet on the opposite sideline! Truth be known, Gandy may not want to run the ball when he sees the West Jones’ defensive front. Led by Alabama commit Byron Young, this group is fearsome. Zhakerreun Wesley will most likely get the starting nod at QB for the War Eagles, and he will have to be at his best to deal with the Mustangs’ defense. But the Mustangs better not go to sleep on this old rival – the War Eagles may be inexperienced at some key spots, but the WC roster is always full of talent. This looks like West Jones’ year to take one from Wayne County, but history tells me it will be close, almost too close to call.

Prediction: West Jones 21, Wayne County 20

Other Games of Interest . . .
Bay Springs – 33, Stringer – 21
Sylva-Bay – 28, Tri-County – 22
Heidelberg – 27, Wingfield – 12
Mize – 23, Raleigh – 17