November 30, 2017 10:20:45 AM
What started in the long, summer hours of July will end this weekend at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) is ready to close the 2017 football season with six state championship games on Friday and Saturday in Oxford.
The state title games will have a decidedly local flavor, as West Point will try to win a second-consecutive Class 5A state title. Starkville will try to win its second title in three seasons in Class 6A, while Noxubee County will look to capture its third championship in four seasons in Class 4A.
For the final time, here is to Watch for in Week No. 16:
Warriors or Devils
Will Simmons High School's stranglehold end?
Simmons (14-0) has owned Class 1A football for the last few years. The Blue Devils have won 39-straight games dating back to the 2014 season.
Nanih Waiya (15-0) will try to stop that streak and finish undefeated in the first game at 11 a.m. Friday.
Many felt Nanih Waiya was a year away, but a talented group of juniors and a powerful running game helped push the Warriors to a South State championship.
Simmons was tested in a 20-14 victory against Okolona in the North State championship.
Simmons has 11 wins by shutout, so close games have been the exception to the norm.
Tigers or Tartars
Will the postgame celebration be wild at the Taylorsville Ward's?
One of the best cheeseburgers in the state can be found at the Ward's Restaurant in Taylorsville. Don't look for one Friday afternoon though because the town will be shut down for the Class 2A State championship.
Chuck Robertson's Taylorsville squad (14-1), which is averaging 36.5 points per game, likely is the favorite in this one. After surviving a close call against Perry Central in the second round, Taylorsville rolled past rival Collins for the South State championship.
Keep an eye on Taylorsville freshman quarterback Ty Keyes, who has thrown for 4,226 yards and 42 touchdowns.
Winona (11-3) might be the biggest surprise in the state finals. The Tigers have won seven-straight games, but three of the four playoff wins have been by a combined 16 points.
Panthers or Jaguars
What are we feeling in Class 3A?
The early game Saturday between Yazoo County (14-0) and Jefferson Davis County (14-1) should be a classic.
Yazoo County does it with defense. The Panthers are allowing 10 ppg. After escaping Houston in the third round, Yazoo County flattened North Panola in the North State championship game.
In its first season, Jefferson Davis County (merger of Bassfield and Prentiss) looks to claim the championship. The Jaguars have scored 42 or more points in three of four playoff wins.
Former Bassfield standout and current MSU standout Jamal Peters would say take the Jaguars. Sounds good to me.
Hornets or Tigers
Will Noxubee County return to the top of the mountain?
After a one-year absence, coach Tyrone Shorter has his Noxubee County (10-4) squad back in Saturday afternoon's title game. If you ask around about the Tigers, you hear "they keep playing better and better."
For Shorter, that is business as usual. When the games matter the most, the Tigers play their best.
With that in mind, Noxubee County will look to extend an eight-game winning streak by having Armoni Clark throw a lot of passes and the defense doing just enough to win the game.
After losing five games in each of the last two seasons, East Central (13-0) might be the surprise team of Class 4A. Even if the Hornets made it this far, many wouldn't have expected them to do it without losing a game.
If nothing else, look for plenty of points. The Hornets run up and down the field with regularity. In the playoffs, East Central has scored 63, 52, 70, and 52 points. This team also thumped Jefferson Davis County, 31-7.
Noxubee County could face its biggest challenge having to stop East Central's ground game. However, the Tigers can score, too, so another high-scoring game might be in the works.
Green Wave or Tigers
Will West Point be challenged?
The MHSAA might have saved the best for last when West Point (14-0) takes on Hattiesburg (14-0) for the Class 5A title in Saturday's late game.
West Point has won 27-straight games, including a 39-6 rout of Olive Branch in the North State championship. You would have to go back to early last season to find the last time West Point played a competitive game.
Behind the rushing of Marcus Murphy and Chris Calvert and the passing of Murphy, the West Point offense has been dominant. On defense, Tyler Rupert and Terence Cherry have led the state's best unit.
Hattiesburg (14-0) has had some near-misses during its South State championship run. The Tigers have been battle-tested in the playoffs, including a victory against rival Laurel last week for the South State championship. The Tigers beat the Tornadoes 20-14 in the regular season and 33-22 in the postseason.
Dual-threat quarterback Jarod Conner has thrown for 2,301 yards and rushed for 1,416 yards.
Still, Conner hasn't seen a defense like he will see Saturday night from reigning state champions.
Yellow Jackets or Pirates
Will Starkville give first-year coach Chris Jones another gold ball?
Starkville (13-2) will try to give Jones another title when it faces Pearl (15-0) for the Class 6A title in the last game Friday night.
Several publications began the season with Pearl ranked ahead of West Point in the state rankings. The polls have reversed themselves in that regard, but Pearl is still considered the team to beat in Class 6A.
Jones has done the best coaching job in the state. He has carried Starkville back to the state title game after the squad missed the playoffs a year ago. A buy-in has taken place and Starkville has thrived in close games this season. A week ago, a dramatic 27-24 victory against Madison Central wrapped up the North State championship.
After beating Brandon in overtime in the regular-season finale, Pearl has rolled to three playoff wins by an average margin of victory of 40 points.
Starkville believes it is a team of a destiny. Good coaching, talent, and confidence can help a team make magic in the postseason.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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