Walters column: Prep football playoff race coming into focus

 

Eric Rice will lead Columbus against Horn Lake Friday night.

Eric Rice will lead Columbus against Horn Lake Friday night. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch

 

Scott Walters

 

 

As we approach the final four weeks (for some regions) and five weeks (for other regions) of the prep football regular season, the playoff picture is coming into clear focus. 

 

In the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA), Starkville and West Point are in good shape. Each appears destined for a first-round playoff game at home and most likely a region championship. 

 

Starkville saw its season-opening five-game win streak snapped with a 27-20 loss at Northwest Rankin. The Yellow Jackets appeared vulnerable for the first time this season. Suddenly, upcoming region games with Madison Central, Vicksburg and Clinton do not look like automatics. 

 

That being said, Starkville is still the cream of the Class 6A crop. A year ago, Starkville struggled down the stretch of the regular season but played great in the postseason. Look for the Northwest Rankin loss to be a mere bump in the road. 

 

West Point has shaken off its early-season loss to Starkville to start 2-0 in Class 5A, Region 1 play. The Green Wave survived a heavyweight showdown with a 14-13 victory over Lafayette. The other big challenge is next week when West Point plays at Olive Branch. 

 

Class 5A is a little more contested this season. However, it will be hard to count out a West Point team holding home-field advantage in November. 

 

Columbus and New Hope are each looking for the first victory of the season. However, there is just enough time to for the ship to be righted and playoffs berths to be earned. 

 

The Columbus case is rather bizarre. The Falcons have played much better in the last three weeks, but still have nothing to show for their efforts. The offense made strides until last Friday's 14-0 home loss to Tupelo. 

 

This week's road test at Horn Lake will be the ultimate challenge. When Starkville falling from No. 1, Horn Lake has taken that spot. 

 

After the Horn Lake game, Columbus will play three of its final four at home. Each game in that set is winnable. 

 

New Hope will need more offensive punch to pull out a playoff berth in Class 4A. After playing at Kosciusko, New Hope will return home for Leake Central. Those two games will determine their fate. 

 

Caledonia has made much improvement this season but will still have to find a second gear to make the playoffs. 

 

Aberdeen opened the Class 3A, Region 4 portion of its schedule with an impressive win at Nettleton. The Bulldogs will need that high-flying offense to produce down the stretch. 

 

The Bulldogs appear poised to make the playoffs and can snag a first-round playoff game at home with continued offensive production. 

 

West Lowndes won back-to-back Class 1A, Region 3 games before falling to French Camp Academy. After missing the playoffs last season, the Panthers can get in by winning three more games. 

 

In the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS), the Golden Triangle area is full of talented teams. 

 

In Class AAA, District 2 play, Starkville Academy is 7-0, while Heritage Academy is 5-2. Both is undefeated in district play. The head-to-head matchup is Oct. 12 at J.E. Logan Field in Starkville. 

 

When it comes playoff time, both teams should be in a position to host in the early rounds. 

 

It's pretty clear the Volunteers have been quite the surprise after winning last season's state championship. The Patriots are headed in the right direction, as well. 

 

In the Class AA ranks, Oak Hill Academy has won back-to-back games to move to 4-3 overall. The Raiders have been injury-plagued. Some help will be needed to move up the power point ladder. 

 

Meanwhile, Columbus Christian (Class A) and Hebron Christian (Eight-Man) still have some time to make things happen. 

 

All in all, we stand ready for a dramatic finish to the regular season. Buckle your seat belts and come along for the ride. 

 

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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