Long time sportswriter and high school football expert Robert Wilson is doing the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard predictions column each week during the high school football season on teams from Hinds, Madison, and Rankin Counties. Robert had a 1-2 record (33.3 percent) last week and has a 253-67 (79.0 percent) this season.
By Robert Wilson
Madison Central (12-1) vs. Brandon (11-2), MHSAA Class 6A state championship, Friday, 7 p.m., Southern Miss, Hattiesburg
Let’s go back to Sept. 4 at The Jungle, home of the Madison Central Jaguars. Madison Central defeated Brandon 42-19. Madison Central junior quarterback and Division I prospect Vic Sutton ran for three touchdowns and Robert Dumas Jr. had 149 yards and three TDs. The Jaguars produced 336 rushing yards. Even Dumas’ backup, junior De’Andre Pullen, had a big night with 102 yards and one TD.
Madison Central, which beat defending MHSAA Class 5A state champion West Jones at home in the opener, improved to 2-0. Brandon, which lost to 2020 Class 6A runner-up Oxford on the road in the season opener, dropped to 0-2.
First-year Madison Central coach Toby Collums – who was the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year after turning around Northwest Rankin’s season in 2020 – saw promise in his Jaguars. The defense, even losing one of its best players in defensive lineman C.J. Barney to an injury early in the game, was solid. Fans were looking ahead, maybe just maybe this could be the team to go all the way to the championship, not seen at Madison Central since 1999.
Meanwhile, first-year Brandon coach Sam Williams, who returned 15 starters from a 5-6 team last season, knew the potential was there. He just hadn’t put all the pieces together yet. His sophomore quarterback, Landon Varnes, had just started two games of his young career was going to improve. Said Williams after the Madison Central game: “We are not going to be fun to deal with in a few weeks.”
Both Collums and Williams were right.
The Jaguars continued to roll to 10 more wins with only defeat, a 35-28 decision when Starkville scored the winning TD in the final minute at Starkville. Even when Collums lost Sutton and Dumas to injury, Madison Central kept winning, beating Oxford 31-14 two weeks ago in the quarterfinals and Starkville 34-13 last week in the semifinals. Junior tight end Jake Norris took over for Sutton and Pullen took over for Dumas. The offensive line continued to open holes and the defense remained solid. And Barney is back.
The Bulldogs became hard to deal with and haven’t lost since the Madison Central game. Even when it lost talented sophomore running back Nate Blount to an injury, Brandon kept winning, making big plays on defense, Varnes getting more comfortable under center, and Blount’s sidekick in the backfield, junior Jarvis Durr, taking up the slack and moving the team down the field and into the end zone. Durr had 142 yards and two TDs to lead Brandon to a 21-20 victory over defending 6A state champion Oak Grove in last week’s semifinals.
So here both teams are, in the state championship game. It’s been a minute as the kids say.
Madison Central had lost nine consecutive semifinal games, so close to getting back here, but haven’t since the Mike Justice coached ultra-talented team of future NFL players like Chris Spencer, Mike Espy and Stephen Gostkowski led the Jaguars to the 1999 state title. Running back Sylvester Brown ran for 182 yards and Madison Central didn’t throw a pass in a 24-14 victory over Provine in the championship game.
Brandon has never won a state title and has been in the championship game only once, losing 31-23 to South Panola in 2012. Then sophomore quarterback Gardner Minshew – now an NFL quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles – passed for 223 yards and a TD and had Brandon on the South Panola 20-yard line in the closing minutes before throwing an interception in the end zone.
Both Collums and Williams are successful coaches.
Collums has a 89-43 record, a 67.4 winning percentage, in 11 seasons, 31-14 in four seasons at Itawamba AHS and 46-28 in six seasons at Northwest Rankin. He has won 21 of his last 26 games, 9-4 his last year at Northwest Rankin and 12-1 his first year at Madison Central.
Williams, who was an assistant at Northwest Rankin (his last two years as offensive coordinator under Collums). Williams has a 48-16 record, a 75 percent winning percentage, in five seasons, 27-11 in three seasons at Pelahatchie and 10-3 in one season at Ridgeland. Like Collums, Williams has won 21 of his 26 games, 10-3 at Ridgeland and 11-2 at Brandon.
Interestingly, the teams Madison Central and Brandon defeated in the semifinals, Starkville and Oak Grove respectively, are the only two teams in the Class 6A which have more win over the past six seasons. Going into this year, Starkville had won 61, Oak Grove 57, Madison Central 56 and Brandon 55.
There has been only one other Class 6A state championship between Metro Jackson teams since 1999. Clinton, behind National High School Player of the Year and now Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers, defeated Pearl 49-35 in 2016. Akers, then a quarterback, passed for 228 yards and two TDs and ran for 217 yards and five TDs in one of the top performances in Mississippi football championship history.
Collums and Williams are hoping one or more of their talented players can have an outstanding performance and lead their team into the history books Friday night.
Madison Central 28, Brandon 21.