August 29, 2013 11:33:24 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
First impressions sometimes don't matter.
They mean even less when it involves a football team playing in a preseason game.
Still, a few shock waves were felt around the state when West Point High School dropped a 35-14 decision to Louisville in the New Hope Jamboree two weeks ago at Mississippi State University's Davis Wade Stadium.
Ready to make amends and to prove that that game didn't mean anything, West Point will open the season at 7 tonight against defending Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state champion South Panola.
For a second-straight year, the game will be played at South Panola's Dunlap Stadium, where the homestanding Tigers escaped with a 12-10 victory at the wire a season ago. South Panola won 37-17 two seasons ago in Clay County.
"It is an outstanding way to start the season," West Point eighth-year coach Chris Chambless said. "Every coach wants a measuring stick. With South Panola, you have one of the biggest sticks in the state. This football team has worked hard and prepared, and we are looking forward to the challenge."
Last season, the Green Wave lost three games -- to Class 6A champion South Panola, Class 5A state champion Starkville, and Class 4A state champion Noxubee County. West Point beat Starkville in the regular season but lost a playoff rematch in overtime for the North State championship.
"The loss to Starkville still haunts us," West Point senior tight end Roger Price said. "That has been the motivation throughout the offseason. That is what has led us to do that one extra thing in practice and that one extra thing in the weight room.
"I have a lot of confidence. Anything less than a state championship will be a disappointment. It has been a couple of years, so we are anxious to get back."
A return to Jackson most likely will be fueled by senior running back Aeris Williams, a Mississippi State University commitment. Williams will be joined in the backfield by junior quarterback Josh Ewing, who will make his first start.
Chambless has again packed the schedule with a non-region slate full of challenges. After an open date to start the season, Starkville, Columbus, and Noxubee County will follow South Panola. The jamboree, which featured two quarters of varsity action, featured one of the favorites in Class 3A.
"We will be ready for the challenge," Chambless said. "We play these games for a reason. You can even take something from the Louisville game. Learn, move on, and be ready for region play. Our mantra has always been to take it one game at a time and to simply find a way in the playoffs.
"Once you are in the playoffs, then you figure out how to advance."
South Panola opened the season with a 42-27 victory against White Station, Tenn., on Friday in Batesville.
Oak Hill Academy (1-0) at Marshall Academy (1-0)
The Raiders will look for a second straight 2-0 start when they travel to Holly Springs to face the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools' Class A Patriots.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday.
Oak Hill Academy opened its season with a 31-0 victory against Hartfield Academy. The Raiders gained 379 total yards and 26 first downs. Drake Riley ran for 105 yards, while brother Drew Riley ran for 70 yards and scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Riley Pierce threw for 50 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Bradley Allen. Drew Riley also had a punt return touchdown.
"We saw a lot of good things in the opener," Oak Hill Academy coach Daniel Merchant said. "The main thing is the kids played with confidence. They went out there and did the things we were supposed to do. We knew the crowd would be excited and into the game early, and we really wanted to respond in the early stages of the game."
Oak Hill Academy held Hartfield Academy to 18 yards of total offense. Drake Riley led the way with five tackles, including a sack. Drew Riley had an interception.
Marshall Academy opened the season with a 56-14 victory against Kirk Academy. The Patriots finished 11-3 last season, falling 49-40 to Brookhaven Academy in the Class A state championship game.
The teams didn't meet last season.
Hebron Christian School (0-1) at Humphreys Academy (1-0)
The Eagles will look to return to the win column at 7 p.m. Friday against the Rebels in Belzoni.
Having recently dropped down to eight-man play, Humphreys Academy opened the season with a 38-18 victory against Calhoun Academy. Hebron Christian opened the season with a 26-14 home loss to Victory Christian Academy.
Trey Chism and Justin Gordon scored the lone touchdowns for the Eagles, which led 14-12 at halftime. Hebron Christian was held to 152 yards of total offense and six first downs.
"We have a young team and we are counting on a bunch of sophomores but we plan to keep moving forward," Hebron Christian coach David Foster. "We will get better each week throughout the season."
Humphreys Academy won 36-12 last season in Pheba.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter