Photo/James Pugh

You’d be hard-pressed to find a game more highlighted and circled on a schedule of 2A games than that of Thursday night’s marquee matchup. Two teams, Taylorsville and Bay Springs, touted as arguably two of the best in its classification, converge onto the same field as Region 5-2A kicks off in Week 7 of the 2018 season.

Neither team needs a look outside its confines for an uptick in motivation. The gravity of Thursday night’s meeting is understood by both.

“It’s a very important game,” said Bay Springs head football coach Dan Brady. “For several years this game wasn’t much of a rivalry. But in the last four years, this series is tied up a two games apiece.”

Taylorsville head coach Mitch Evans remarks a similar sentiment.

“It’s the biggest game of the year,” Evans stated. “It’s the first game that matters as to where we go in the playoffs. It’s our first district game against a very good team. Bay Springs is always well prepared, well coached with some talented players.”

A 37-yard field goal as time expired decided the contest at this very time last year. Taylorsville, who later went on to win the MHSAA Class 2A title over Winona, 41-26, defeated Bay Springs 42-40 in 2017. The Tartars have won 15-straight since last year’s meeting between the two. 

Expect no loss of luster in this years’ showdown.

“The big thing about this game is that whoever wins [Thursday night] goes to first place [in Region 5-2A],” Brady said. “There are a lot of good teams in our region, but I would like to think that Taylorsville and we are the front runners as of now.”

Both teams know what to expect from the other offensively. Taylorsville returns the state’s leading passer from a year ago in sophomore Ty Keyes. As a freshman, Keyes passed for 4,562 yards on 231 completions and 45 touchdowns. He currently leads the state again this year with 1,654 yards on 86 completions and 18 passing scores. 

“Taylorsville has the best offensive player in the state,” said Brady. “Offensively, Ty Keyes is a great player and great kid. He works hard and is one of the most accurate passers I’ve seen. He can also make things happen with his legs. 

“We have to keep an eye on him at all times. We have to be sure we have him accounted for at all times and even in the run game when he scrambles. The thing is we’re not going to be able to take Ty Keyes away from the game; no one has been able to do that. But we have to limit the amount of impact he has in the game.”

Bay Springs, though, has an altogether different style of offense. Its yards are mainly gathered on the ground. Last years’ leading rushers are back as seniors. Anson Windham and Jamarious Hosey combined for 2,609 yards on 375 carries – an average of 6.9 yards per carry. The rushing duo is on track for a very similar year, borrowing an injury free season moving forward. 

Taylorsville has seen versions of the Wing-T offense already, but not in the same fashion as ran by Bay Springs.

“Seminary runs a Wing-T offense, and so does Raleigh,” said Evans. “We’ve seen this before, but this is a different animal when it comes to Bay Springs athlete-wise. 

“Coach Brady and them do a good job. They’re a good team all around.”

Coaches on both sides stress the importance of being excellent in all areas Thursday night, especially in a game that could be decided by a single play.

“What we’ve wanted to do this week is clean up some areas of trouble, especially on special teams,” Brady said. “We place a high emphasis on such when a game like this approaches that we know could come down to a single play [outside of offense].”

Records so far suggest advantage Taylorsville as the Tartars come into the contest unbeaten at 6-0. 

Bay Springs, on the other hand, is 4-2, with losses against 5A West Jones and 4A Quitman. The Bulldogs have played the tougher schedule. Of Bay Springs list of wins is Philadelphia, who at the time (in Week 2) was listed as a Top 5 2A team in the state. Philadelphia struck first in the contest; after that, it was all Bay Springs, 38-14. Wins like that will give you a load of confidence Brady notes.

“I told our guys after the game that it was a good measuring stick for us,” Brady said. “Just coming out of Philadelphia with a win was a big confidence booster for us. As a team, it showed us that we’re not just happy to be there anymore. We want to compete. I think Thursday night will show that our tough schedule has prepared us well.”

Kickoff Thursday night in Taylorsville is set for 7 p.m.