Photo/James Pugh

Almost one year ago to date, a 17-7 finish in Soso on an unsuspecting Friday night sent shock waves throughout Region 3-5A. West Jones pulled off its biggest upset in recent memory and the king of Region 3-5A, Laurel, since it joined in 2012, was dethroned. And for the first time since Laurel’s integration in the mix, West Jones finished ahead of its county rivals in Region 3-5A standings. 

Though the fun didn’t last – West Jones being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, Laurel surviving to make yet another South State Championship appearance – it was a night not to be forgotten by those who had a part in it. 

Laurel, however, would like to make Sept. 13, 2017, a distant memory Friday night on George Blair Field ‘Between the Bricks.” 

There is something about Friday night worth mentioning. West Jones isn’t the underdog, but neither is Laurel. It’s just a meeting between rivals that easily could go either way, and it’s been a while since that could be said. 

“I think these are the ones that are fun,” said West Jones head football coach Scott Pierson. “I think [Laurel head coach] Todd Breland will tell you the same thing. The kids worked 12 months out of the year. It used to be football, basketball and baseball, but now we’re getting to where we practice in the spring, summer and fall to get ready for these games that matter. And this is a game that matters.

Breland did in his own words.

“It’s West Jones vs. Laurel,” said Breland. “That is big enough in itself. We both know what’s at stake. Certainly, it’s not the end-all for either team, but it does put you in the driver’s seat the rest of the way through [the regular season].”

Defense Matters

Defense is the reason we’re here. West Jones has yet to allow a single point in Region 3-5A thus far. Last Friday night in Soso, the Mustangs closed out its third-straight shutout of the season with a 37-0 win over North Pike. The Jaguars averaged 34 points a game coming into the game, only to see that number take a massive hit after going toe-to-toe with arguably the best defensive line in the state. 

“Without a doubt, Friday night we’ll face the best defense we’ve seen this year,” said Breland. “There stats show that and so does the way they play. We’ll have to be patient. We understand that no one is going to go up and down the field against them. You have to be patient and play a field position game.”

Opposing offenses average slightly above four points a game versus Soso’s stalwart defense. What gets lost in the hype of this week’s game, though, is the defense on Laurel’s side of the tracks. Two weeks ago, against last year’s Region 3-5A winner Brookhaven, Laurel stopped the Panthers in threatening territory every single time in its 20-0 win. Brookhaven spent an overwhelming majority of the night in Laurel territory but didn’t come away with a single point. 

“They’ve gotten better,” Breland said of his team’s defense. “We had to find the right combination in some spots. We have a lot of young guys on the field that of course gets better with every game and every snap. We like the way they are playing right now. I think what makes us a really good football team is when we go out and play fast and have fun. At the end of the night, it’s just a game.”

Several questions will be answered Friday night, including how well Laurel’s new ground-oriented offense, which differs from its air-raid offense of years past and averages 225 yards per game, can do against arguably the best defensive line in the state. 

“That is the matchup Friday night from our perspective,” said Pierson. “It comes down to our ability to keep their power-run game down to a minimum. Laurel is athletic enough to where we know they are going to make plays. We understand that, and we have to respond when things aren’t going well.”

Kickoff between West Jones (6-1) and Laurel (4-3) is slated for 7 p.m. at R. H. Watkins Stadium.