Long time sportswriter and high school football expert Robert Wilson is doing a predictions column each week during the high school football season on teams from Hinds, Madison and Rankin Counties. Robert picked 25 of 31 games (80.6 percent, second highest this season) correctly last week, including Starkville’s win over previously undefeated Madison Central. Robert is 186-70 overall for the season, a 72.6 percent.
South Panola (8-1) at Madison Central (7-1) (Thursday)
The University of South Panola, as many fans like to call them because of their domination of Mississippi high school football, makes a visit to Madison Central’s Jungle to take on a bunch of angry Jaguars. South Panola has won a Mississippi public school record 12 state championships and wants another one. Their last one was in 2014. And in 2017, USP brought back the head coach, Ricky Woods, who had a 74-1 record, won 60 games in a row and four straight state titles from 2003-2006, to try to get No. 13. But times have changed since USP’s domination 15 years ago. Madison Central is one of the teams that doesn’t fear South Panola any more. In fact, the Jaguars have won the last three meetings, including a 14-8 decision in 2015 in Batesville that shocked Mississippi football and abruptly ended a 26-game winning streak and eliminated South Panola in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. Woods’ first team in 2017 lost to Madison Central 31-14 at Madison and the two teams didn’t meet last season. Madison Central is angry because the Jaguars fell just short of keeping their undefeated season last week with a 24-21 loss at Starkville. Madison Central should bounce back this week. But it will be close.
Madison Central 24-21.
Neshoba Central (5-3) at Ridgeland (7-1)
First-year coach David White has reached one of his goals for his Ridgeland Titans, a winning season. Ridgeland defeated Vicksburg 51-7 last week to clinch its first winning season since 2013. But the Titans are looking for more. Ridgeland has won five games in a row, scoring at least 48 points in each of its last three wins, and are tied with Neshoba for first place in Class 5A, Region 2 with a 4-0 record. Holmes County Central, which Ridgeland plays next week, is third at 3-1. This team could possibly make a run at the school’s best season in school history – 13-1 in 2010 – when the Titans won their first 13 games before losing to eventual champion West Point in the Class 5A semifinals. But getting past Neshoba won’t be easy. Two of Neshoba’s three losses were to Class 6A teams Germantown and Tupelo and it handed Holmes County Central its only region loss, a 27-20 decision in Lexington. If Ridgeland is to continue its winning streak, junior quarterback Zy McDonald will have a hand in it. McDonald, recognized as one of the top junior quarterbacks in Mississippi, has passed for 1,995 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 503 yards and 13 touchdowns. And if the Titans want to win they must slow down Neshoba junior running back Jarquez Hunter, who has gained 1,263 yards – averaging an amazing 11.5 yards per carry — and scored 18 TDs this season. In the last two weeks, Hunter gained 331 yards and five TDs against Canton and 225 yards and four TDs against Provine.
Northwest Rankin (3-5) at Pearl (5-3) (Thursday)
This game looked like it would be lopsided about a month ago. Pearl was rolling and other than a close loss to top-ranked Madison Central, the Pirates appeared to be headed for another great season. Meanwhile, Northwest Rankin was headed in the other direction, losing its first four games. But both teams have changed directions. Pearl lost senior Kenyatta Harrell, possibly the best running back in Mississippi, to a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter against Petal and lost that game in overtime. Pearl recovered to beat Meridian and Terry, but lost last week to George County 21-14. Northwest Rankin, after losing to Clinton in overtime for its fourth straight loss, turned it around and won three straight before playing Petal a tough game, losing 28-21. Included in that three game winning streak was a 35-0 win over George County, the same team Pearl lost to. Pearl will win this one in the fourth quarter.
Oak Grove (5-3) at Brandon (6-3) (Thursday)
Brandon has owned Oak Grove during the regular season, winning for an amazing nine straight years. The Bulldogs haven’t lost to the Warriors in the regular season since a 16-10 decision in 2009 when Oak Grove finished as the Class 6A runner-up. But when playoff time comes, it’s a different story. Oak Grove has ended Brandon’s season in 2010, 2014 and last year, and the 2014 and last year’s games prevented Brandon from going to the state championship game. Oak Grove rallied from a 35-24 deficit in the fourth quarter and Brandon missed a field goal with 9 seconds to play in 2014. And then last year, as many SEC teams are finding out this season, Ole Miss freshman John Rhye Plumlee used his legs to beat Brandon. Plumlee gained 145 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns for a 21-10 victory. This year Brandon has the Dandy Dozen quarterback on their side in Will Rogers and Rogers is coming into Friday after throwing six touchdown passes against Meridian last week. Look for Rogers’ arm to survive Oak Grove and give the Bulldogs its 10th straight regular season win over Oak Grove.
Warren Central (5-3) at Clinton (4-4)
This is one of the oldest rivalries in the state, going back to the Little Dixie days when these two teams, 30 minutes from each other, would play every year. Both teams have had their ups and downs this year. Warren Central was crushed by Pearl 42-0 in the second game of the season. But the Vikings have bounced back by winning three of the next five games, with the losses to Top 5 teams Brandon 10-9 and Madison Central 28-7. Clinton, likewise, has felt success and pain. The Arrows had one of the biggest upsets in the second week of the season with a 13-7 victory over Olive Branch, who was expected to be one of the top teams in the state this season. Clinton’s losses have been to Pearl, Brandon, Madison Central and South Panola. Clinton desperately needs this win to keep in the playoff face. The Arrows are sitting in fifth place and also have yet to play region leader Starkville. Warren Central is tied with Madison Central and South Panola in second place. Clinton has lost to Warren Central five straight times, including twice in 2016. The Arrows’ last win was a 10-9 decision in 2014. Clinton stops the streak Friday night.
Jackson Prep (7-2) at Parklane (6-3)
Jackson Prep lost to Madison-Ridgeland Academy 34-22 last week, its worst loss to an MAIS team since last year’s 42-14 regular season loss to MRA. Prep hasn’t lost two games in a row since it lost to Memphis University School and George County in 2001, and the Patriots haven’t lost to two straight MAIS teams since 1989 when Parklane and Washington beat them back-to-back games. Here’s more history on Prep’s side. Prep coach Ricky Black has played Parklane every year since he arrived in 1997 and has never lost to Parklane. The last time Parklane defeated Prep was in 1995. Prep, the seven time defending state champion, will bounced back big in this one.
Presbyterian Christian (5-4) at MRA (8-2)
PCS decided not to play the rest of its junior high schedule so the MAIS rules state if a team doesn’t complete their junior high schedule it is ineligible to participate in the high schools playoffs of that sport. So PCS will not be in the playoffs. MRA needs to win this game to keep its No. 1 seed. If the Patriots play like they did last week against Jackson Prep this one will be a breeze. MRA, which lost to Prep in the championship game last season, beat Prep 34-22 for the second straight year in the regular season. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Joe Perkins, a Colorado commitment, was the star for MRA. Perkins caught two touchdown passes from Philip Short and returned an interception 35 yards for his third score. MRA limited Prep to only 189 total yards and had six sacks. Prep star running back Matt Jones, who came in with 1,010 yards and 23 TDs, gained only 13 yards on 11 carries. In addition, Prep had not allowed any points this season at home, outscoring its opponents 113-0. The MRA win ended Prep’s seven game winning streak and handed Prep its first home loss since MRA won at Prep in 2016. Don’t expect MRA to play as well as it did last week, but the Patriots should play well enough to secure the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
Tri-County (8-1) at Hartfield (6-3) (Thursday)
This is a non-conference game and the last regular season for both of these teams. Both are going to the playoffs. Tri-County is the top seed in MAIS Class 4A, District 2 and first-year coach Philip Wasson is trying to give his Rebels more momentum as they attempt to win their first state title since 2012, their last year in Class A. Tri-County has reached the state title four times since, but lost each time in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The Rebels have won seven games in the row since losing 50-49 to Riverfield, La. Meanwhile, Hartfield in the new kid on the block in the playoffs and is possibly the most improved team in the MAIS, winning so far three more games than last year. The Hawks are the No. 2 seed in Class 5A, District 2 behind Lamar and are trying to rebound after losses to MRA and Lamar. Tri-County beat Hartfield 50-13 last season at Flora. This one will be closer.
W Adams Christian (7-2) at Central Hinds (0-9)
Forest Hill (3-6) at Laurel (6-2) W
W George County (5-3) at Terry (2-7)
W Germantown (3-5) at Greenville (3-5)
W Lamar (7-3) at East Rankin (1-8)
Madison St. Joseph (2-6) at Pelahatchie (7-2) W
W Quitman (6-3) at Richland (4-5)
W Raleigh (3-5) at St. Andrew’s (2-7)
W Riverfield, La. (9-0) at Clinton Christian (5-4)
W Starkville (7-2) at Murrah (1-7) (South Jackson)
W Taylorsville (8-1) at Puckett (5-4)
Vicksburg (1-7) at Canton (5-3) W
Wingfield (1-8) at South Jones (2-7) W
W Briarfield, La. (7-1) at Rebul (0-9)
W Brookhaven (3-5) at Jim Hill (2-6) (North Jackson)
Callaway (4-4) at Holmes County Central (6-3) W
Cleveland Central (2-6) at Provine (7-2) W (Hughes)
Florence (2-7) at Newton County (4-5) W
W Indinaola (5-4) at Canton Academy (2-7)
McLaurin (2-7) at Velma Jackson (5-3) W
W Park Place (4-5) at Benton (3-6)
W Pisgah (7-2) at Riverside (2-7)
Raymond (3-6) at North Pike (4-5) W
W South Pike (9-0) at Lanier (5-3) (South Jackson)
Starkville Academy (6-3) at Jackson Academy (5-4) W