Veteran sportswriter and high school football expert Robert Wilson is doing the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard predictions column each week during the high school football season on teams from Hinds, Madison, and Rankin County. Robert had a 15-10 record (60 percent) last week – the best record this season – and has a 220-70 record overall (75.8 percent) this season.

By Robert Wilson

Brandon (8-1) at Pearl (2-8), Thursday

Eat dirt.

This is the phrase always used when these two long time Rankin County rivals meet. Brandon has been making its opponents eat a lot of dirt this season under second-year coach Sam Williams, the 2021 PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year after taking Brandon to a 11-3 record and the MHSAA Class 6A runner-up finish. Williams has his Bulldogs rolling once again, losing only to Oak Grove 25-20 two weeks ago.

Brandon bounced back last week and outscored Northwest Rankin 36-28 behind junior running back Nate Blount’s 248 yards and five touchdowns and two 2-point conversions. Blount received his first scholarship this weekend by Central Arkansas and also was invited to participate in the National High School Combine in December in Frisco, Texas. He has 1,030 yards and 13 TDs this season. Brandon’s other top running back, junior and Louisiana Tech commitment Jarvis Durr, is out for the season. Durr had 667 yards and eight TDs in eight games before an elbow injury. Junior quarterback Landon Varnes (1,942 yards, 17 TDs, 6 interceptions), senior wide receiver and Akron (Ohio) commitment Lester Miller (1,081 yards, 12 TDs) and senior center and Southern Miss commitment Luke Rogers (leads the offensive line, which has helped the offense average 461.2 total yards per game) have had outstanding seasons.

Brandon’s defense, which has been pretty stingy all season except for the last two weeks (25 points to Oak Grove and 28 to Northwest Rankin), is led by junior defensive linemen Deanudre Washington and Jaeden Calendar, senior linebacker Dysart Bell and senior defensive backs Jevon Durr and JaQuaylen Love. 

While Brandon’s opponents have been eating a lot of dirt this season, Pearl has been eating a lot of dirt themselves. The Pirates have their worst record since 1974 when they went 2-8. A loss to Brandon would give Pearl nine losses for the first time since 1971.

Even though Brandon is a big favorite to win this game, both teams know how crazy things happen in rivalry games. Just five years ago, Brandon almost pulled off a huge upset. Pearl was on its way to a 16-0 season and a Class 6A state championship, when Brandon, which finished 7-6, almost derailed the Pirate train. Brandon scored a late touchdown to send the game into overtime, but Pearl won 28-27 when Brandon missed an extra point attempt. A young Will Rogers – now the record-setting quarterback at Mississippi State – almost took Brandon to the upset win as a sophomore.

With a win, Brandon will be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and a home game in the first round of the 6A state playoffs depending on the Oak Grove and Warren Central games.  A loss could put the Bulldogs as a No. 3 seed and facing a first-round road game.

Justin Hunter was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace long time Pearl coach John Perry three years ago. Hunter hasn’t seen the success of Perry and has a 13-20 record. Pearl had a tremendous run under Perry for a five year stretch from 2013-2017 winning at least 11 games in four of those five seasons. A win over Brandon could jumpstart Hunter and the Pirates to get back those winning ways from several years ago.

If Pearl is going to pull off the upset, the Pirates need huge games from senior offensive lineman Reid Grantham, sophomore wide receiver Kingi McNair (leads team with 27 catches, 586 yards, 5 TDs) and senior running back Jamarion Turner (a team-high 664 rushing yards, two TDs).

Brandon leads this longtime series 44-26-1. Brandon will get No. 45.

Brandon 28, Pearl 14.

In other games (winning team in bold):

Forest Hill (1-8) at Callaway (7-2), Thursday, South Jackson Field

Germantown (5-5) at Tupelo (10-0), Thursday

Jim Hill (1-8-1) at Provine (4-5), Thursday, North Jackson Field

Madison Central (6-3) at Oxford (5-4), Thursday

Murrah (0-10) at Clinton (6-3), Thursday

Natchez (4-6) at Florence (7-3), Thursday

Oak Grove (8-2) at Northwest Rankin (4-5), Thursday

Ridgeland (6-4) at Canton (4-5), Thursday

Terry (4-6) at Petal (3-7), Thursday

Raymond (6-3) at Newton County (4-5)

Pelahatchie (2-8) at Philadelphia (5-5)

Pisgah (3-7) at Lake (5-5)

Newton (5-5) at Velma Jackson (5-4)

Parklane Academy (6-5) at Jackson Academy (8-3)

Presbyterian Christian (4-7) at Hartfield Academy (8-2)

Madison St. Joseph (5-5) at Simpson Academy (7-2)

Tri-County Academy (10-1) at Lee Academy (7-3)

Sylva-Bay Academy (3-8) at Canton Academy (9-1)