By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd

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       During his successful 18-year head football coaching career, Philip Wasson has won three state championships and been in five state championship games. But the Tri-County Academy coach remembers only a handful of games where everything worked as well as Friday night’s impressive 47-6 victory over Simpson Academy, a game where most believed would be a tossup, or maybe even gave Simpson the edge.

       The two teams – considered two of the most successful football programs in the lower classes of the MAIS – both were coming off state runner-up finishes from last year, Tri-County in Class 4A and Simpson in Class 5A.

       But Friday night, Tri-County played like the far superior team.

       The Rebels had plenty of standout performances.

       Junior quarterback Bryce Warriner completed 23 of 32 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, junior running back-middle linebacker Rhett Gray had 110 yards on 22 carries and four TDs and had a team-high five tackles, senior wide receiver Jacob Clearman caught 10 passes for 101 yards and one TD, returned five punts for 79 yards and punted twice for a 41-yard average and returned an interception for 42 yards.

       The trend for Tri-County started on the first Simpson possession when a fumbled snap on a punt resulted in Tri-County getting the ball deep in Simpson territory and Gray scored the first of his four TDs on a 1-yard run three minutes into the game. Tri-County scored 20 points in the second quarter for a 28-6 halftime lead and pushed it to 34-6 two minutes into the second half with another Gray TD run.

       “When I was at Washington, we beat MRA (Madison-Ridgeland Academy) 24-6 in 2011, beat JA (Jackson Academy) 28-7 in 2015, beat Starkville (Academy) 20-0 for the (2011) state championship and beat Oak Forest (La.) 37-20 in the (2015) state championship. All those games we were the underdogs going in and Friday night we were the underdog by all,” said Wasson, who has a 131-68 overall record in 18 seasons, including a 43-10 mark (81.1 winning percentage) in his fifth season at Tri-County. “So that for sure got our attention, out of all those games the Oak Forest game sticks out most because I really thought the game was not over until the final horn went off to end the game. Those teams could score on any given play and Simpson definitely has the ability to score on any given play.”

       Wasson said his team didn’t play well in the jamboree last week at Tri-County.

       “The motivation for Friday night was to play the way we’re supposed to play, we did not have a good showing at our jamboree so we hit the sled all week with the team and made sure we got their attention,” Wasson said. “The most important thing for us is always play hard and we did. I’m proud of our coaches and players. The seniors really stepped up and led the way. Quarterback Bryce Warriner controlled the offense, and the defense got better. Jacob Clearman had a monster game on both sides of the ball. The offensive and defensive lineman took control of the game. (Senior defensive end) Hayden Walker had a good game. The offensive line was solid.”

       Tri-County had nine starters returning from last year’s 12-2 team, including Warriner who set school records with 2,262 yards and 30 TD passes and Clearman, who had a team-high 20.4-yards per catch and tied for the team high with six interceptions.