By Robert Wilson
Greenville Christian School coach Jon Reed McLendon and Oak Grove High coach Drew Causey were looking for the same thing – good competition – and they found each other because of Twitter.
Tonight, the most anticipated matchup between MAIS and MHSAA football teams in Mississippi history will take place.
Defending MAIS Class 3A state champion Greenville Christian and defending MHSAA Class 6A state champion Oak Grove meet at 7 p.m. at Oak Grove’s 6,500 seat Warrior Stadium. A standing room only crowd is expected. The game can be seen at oakgrovewarriors.live.
The first public-private football game in Mississippi history was in 2001 when George County from the MHSAA defeated Jackson Prep from the MAIS 27-14 at Prep in Flowood. There have been at least a hundred public-private football games since then, but none between teams of this caliber.
Oak Grove is nationally ranked, No. 75 by High School America and No. 79 by MaxPreps, comes in with the longest winning streak in Mississippi with 16 consecutive victories, including three straight this season, and has won 24 of their last 25 games. The Warriors have played in the 6A state championship game for the last three seasons, losing in 2018 and 2019 and winning in 2020. Oak Grove is ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps in Mississippi. The Warriors have won more games in the past six seasons than any Class 6A team in Mississippi.
Greenville Christian isn’t nationally ranked but played a Top 10 nationally ranked team even for three quarters two weeks ago in the Freedom Bowl in Atlanta. Collins Hill High, ranked No. 7 in the nation by MaxPreps, led Greenville Christian 16-14 after three quarters before pulling away for a 37-22 victory. Greenville Christian, ranked No. 3 in Mississippi by MaxPreps, has won 15 consecutive games against Mississippi competition. The Saints defeated two-time MAIS Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy 58-32 to end MRA’s 19-game winning streak in the season opener this year. By comparison, MRA lost to defending Tennessee Class 6A public school state champion Oakland 31-13 two weeks later Oakland is ranked No. 13 in the nation by High School America. Many consider Greenville Christian one of the best MAIS teams in history.
Greenville Christian had an open date this week because Northpointe Christian School in Southaven called McLendon several weeks ago and said they weren’t going to be able to play. Oak Grove had an open date this week before Class 6A, Region 3 plays begins next week. McLendon posted on Twitter that he was looking for a game and Causey saw it, called McLendon and asked Greenville Christian to play.
“We are always looking for the best competition to get us ready for a rough district schedule,” said Causey, who has a 67-22 record (75.2 percent) in his seventh season at Oak Grove. “We have had trouble finding games. I’m glad this worked out. We know Greenville Christian has a great team with a lot of talented athletes. It should a good game.”
“We’re excited for this opportunity,” said McLendon, who is in his eighth year as head coach at Greenville Christian. “It’s a huge deal to be going and playing one of the premier programs in Mississippi, whoto is regarded as the number one team in the state in most every poll. It’s another chance for our kids to go compete at the highest level of high school football and be tested. Our last time out (in Georgia), we didn’t play our best and we’ve had to sit with that for a couple of weeks now, so we’re really excited to get back out there in game action and see what kind of progress we’ve made.”
Greenville Christian won the MAIS Class 3A state title by 32 points over Carroll Academy and won its last nine games by an average of 36 points last season so McLendon went looking for better competition. He scheduled MAIS Class 6A teams MRA, Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy and the Freedom Bowl with Collins Hill. Greenville Christian hasn’t had a close game yet except for Collins Hill. Greenville Christian has 17 starters returning, many of those who transferred from Greenwood High, Greenville High, and Greenville O’Bannon High last year since those public schools did play fall sports because of covid.
Senior quarterback D.J. Smith leads the offense. He passed for 2,581 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for 903 yards and 12 TDs while playing only an average of three quarters per game in his 10 games. Smith has passed for 1,063 yards and 12 TDs and ran for 462 yards and 5 TDs in three games this season (Hillcrest Christian forfeited to Greenville Christian last week because of a shortage of players). Smith has Division I offers from Southern Miss, Mississippi Valley, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, and McNeese State. Senior wide receiver Chris Bell, who transferred from Yazoo City this year, is a Southern Miss commitment and has caught 14 passes for 357 yards, an average of 25.5 yards per catch, and six TDs this season. Other Division I programs are paying attention to Smith and Bell. Maryland has offered Bell recently and Ole Miss and Mississippi State are showing interest. Senior cornerback Jaterrious Elam, a Mississippi State commit, is ranked as the No. 16 top recruit in the class of 2022 by 247 Sports. Elam, like Smith, transferred from Greenwood High last season. Senior linebacker J.D. Stewart (6-3, 230 pounds) is a Southern Miss commit and is ranked No. 24 in Mississippi by 247. He also transferred from Greenwood last season.
Oak Grove doesn’t any players listed in the Top 25 among the Class of 2022 by 247 Sports, but several of them have Division I offers. Senior offensive tackle Klabron Pollard (6-foot-3, 288 pounds and son of former Southern Miss star Lytrel Pollard) and senior wide receiver Tyrell Pollard, no relation, have many Division I offers. Tyrell caught 50 passes for 987 yards and 15 TDs last season and has six catches for 34 yards this season. Senior defensive back Dontavious Howard has an offer from Southern Miss and 6-6, 285-pound senior offensive tackle McKale Boley has an offer from Colorado. Senior quarterback Kabe Barnett, one of the top quarterbacks in Mississippi, passed for 2,384 yards and 35TDs and only five interceptions and ran for 443 yards and eight TDs last season and has thrown for 331 yards and two TDs in two games this season (Oak Grove had a forfeit win over Wayne County). Junior running back J.Q. Gray had 180 rushing yards and two TDs on 14 carries and caught two passes for 54 yards in last week’s 27-0 victory over Hattiesburg. Howard, senior linebackers Braxton Miller and Quentin Sterling, senior nose guard Adarius Haynes and junior safety Jaylen Aborom are the leaders on Oak Grove’s defense, which has allowed only seven points in two games.