By Austin Bishop
The Winston County Journal
Hazlehurst’s football resume is impressive.
The Indians are the defending MHSAA Class 3A State Football Champions and will be playing for the title the third consecutive season when they take the field at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday.. Hazlehurst is also 14-1 this season, with that only loss coming to Class 2A power Bassfield 21-20 in a thriller. HHS has beaten opponents by two touchdowns or more 11 times this season, including last week’s 36-22 win over Wilkinson County in the South State title game. The Indians have beaten teams by 20 points or more eight times and nine times have held opponents to 15 points or less.
All of that is true, but it’s also true that the consensus pick to win the 2013 championship when the Indians face off with Louisville High School at 11 a.m. on Saturday in Jackson is not Hazlehurst. That’s something that’s not lost on Hazlehurst head coach Randal Montgomery.
“All the talk is about Louisville and that’s rightfully so,” said Montgomery, who is in his third season as head coach of the Indians. “Anytime you have won as many state championships as they have, they have earned the right to be talked about . But, we really don’t get into that type of thing anyway. We just really try to take care of Hazlehurst and we have done a good job so far.”
Not only are the folks in 3A talking about Louisville being the team to beat, but coaches in other classifications recognize the strength of the 2013 Wildcats as well.
“The biggest break we got all year was Louisville being moved from 4A down to 3A,” said Lafayette County head football coach Eric Robertson when he took the podium for the MHSAA Football Championships press conference held at the Mississippi Hall of Fame in Jackson on Monday. That comment got a big laugh from those in attendance, but also a large number of nods of agreement.
Veteran LHS head coach M.C. Miller, who will be trying to lead Louisville to its eighth state football championship since the playoffs began in 1981, also understands what those comments will do for the Hazlehurst team as it prepares for the Wildcats this week.
“It will give them a little burn and I know that too,” Miller said, noting that the Indians may come into the game feeling they have something to prove. “We are just going to have to get some of that determination back on our side. We’re not done yet.”
That’s something Louisville High School senior quarterback Wyatt Roberts fully understands.
“We are completely zoned in on Hazlehurst,” he said. “I mean, this is it. This is the biggest game of the year. Nobody is going to overlook the defending state champions.”
There has been some concern through the course of the year that Louisville has been winning its games so handily that the starters might not have the stamina to compete for four quarters in a big game. The ‘Cats have debunked that theory during the playoffs. After resting the starters in a 69-0 opening round win over Ruleville Central, the starters have gone deep into wins over Water Valley (56-27), Cleveland East Side (40-6) and the North State title game win over Charleston (45-0).
“We get talked to about that a lot,” said LHS senior linebacker Jeremy Sangster. “When you are playing a half or a quarter of football a lot of people ask when we play a good team are we going to be in shape or prepared. We stepped up to that challenge. We played good teams in the playoffs and stepped up and kept on winning.”
Miller admits he had a few concerns of his own.
“I was kind of worried about that,” Miller said. “We wondered how they would fair when they had to play a full game, but they are steadily rising to the occasion. Their stats are not as good as if they were playing the whole game and it probably hurt the players a little bit there. But I really hope (resting them) helped them because they didn’t get hurt.”
By looking at some of Louisville’s individual stats it would be hard-pressed to believe they weren’t playing full games.
Roberts, in his fourth season as the starter for the ‘Cats, hit on 179-of-319 passes for 2,827 yards. The most amazing stat is his 36 touchdown passes compared to only four interceptions.
Desmond Goss had 53 catches for 1,011 yards and 17 scores, while junior Dontae Jones has 41 catches for 727 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dalton Hudspeth with 37 catches for 472 yards and T.J Hudson with 25 for 395 yards round out a strong and balanced group of receivers.
“I believe I have one of the best receiving corps in the state of Mississippi,” Roberts said. “Their ability to make plays in space or in coverage gets me out of a lot of binds and makes me look a lot better.” And like any good quarterback, he quickly gives a lot of credit to his offensive line as well. “It’s really a total team thing. It’s not just one person.”
While the ‘Cats like to spread it out and pass the ball around, they can also run it. Demarcus Brooks leads LHS in rushing yards with 954 on just 108 carries for 883 yards per carry. He also scored 12 touchdowns. Avonte Harris has rushed for 367 yards, while Roberts ran for 247 and seven touchdowns.
“We probably could have run Wyatt more during his career,” Miller said. “He’s a very good runner, but we just didn’t want to risk getting him hurt.”
Sangster leads a nasty Louisville defense with a team-high 146 tackles on the season, also in limited action. Twenty-seven of those tackles were made behind the line of scrimmage. Anthony Gund is second on the team with 73 stops.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be defending them,” Hazlehurst’s Montgomery said. “We don’t’ see a lot of that (passing offenses) on our side of the state. That presents a great challenge for us.”
Montgomery’s Indians lost four offensive lineman, a three-year starter at quarterback and two running backs off last year’s team, but still managed to return to Jackson for the third straight year.
“We thought if we could put something together on the offensive line we could make a run at it,” he said. “About halfway through the season when we got in there and went (toe-to-toe) with Bassfield, we thought we had a chance in 3A.”
D’Alex Reese is Hazlehurst’s leading rusher with 1,479 yards on just 166 carries for 16 touchdowns and an average of 8.91 yards per attempt. Quarterback Jarvis Warner rushed for 1,073 yards on 109 attempts and also passed for 1,710 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Dycelious Reese may be the most explosive player for the Indians. He has picked up 692 yards on the ground on 67 attempts for an average of 10.33 yards, while also catching 24 passes for 457 yards.
Linebacker Johnkil Skipper leads the Indians with 91 tackles, while Javareus Tanner has 82.