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 went 14-5 last week (73.6 percent) and is 165-43 (79.3 percent) for the season.
Brandon (4-5) at Pearl (3-6)
The Rankin County Super Bowl aka “Eat Dirt” Game is the one of the oldest and most intense high school football rivalries in Mississippi. The first meeting was in 1949 and ended in a 0-0 tie. The two teams have played each other every year except for 1953 and 1954. Brandon leads the series 43-25-1 and has dominated lately, winning 10 of the last 14 meetings and three of those losses were in overtime. Pearl has been able to breathe easy with a victory only once in the past 15 years, a 35-7 win in 2016. Pearl won 28-27 in overtime two years ago on its way to an undefeated season and the Class 6A state championship. Pearl’s Tylan Knight, now played defensive back for Ole Miss, scored two touchdowns, including one in OT. Another Ole Miss Rebel, wide receiver Jonathan Mingo, caught two TDs passes to help Brandon to a 14-10 win in 2018. A Mississippi State Bulldog, quarterback Will Rogers, was the star in last year’s game, passing for 365 yards and three TDs in a 34-13 Brandon victory.
This year’s game will likely decide who goes to the playoffs. If Petal beats Terry tonight, a Pearl win over Brandon will put the Pirates as the No. 3 seed in Class 6A, Region 3 and leave Brandon out. A Brandon win over Pearl will put Brandon as the No. 4 seed and leave Pearl out.
This year’s game has a new twist. First-year Pearl head coach Justin Hunter will be facing his friend and former coaching associate, Brandon head coach Tyler Peterson, for the first time as a head coach. Hunter, who was offensive coordinator for Pearl for the past six years, took over for John Perry after he took a coaching job in Missouri after last season. Hunter was going to school at Mississippi State and was on then Louisville head coach Brad Peterson’s staff along with Tyler Peterson, Brad’s first cousin, when Louisville won the state championship in 2007 and 2008. When Tyler Peterson took the head coaching job at Noxapater in 2009 he hired Hunter as an assistant coach, his coaching job out to school. Tyler Peterson and Hunter won the state championship at Noxapater in 2011. Tyler Peterson then took the head coaching job at Kosciusko and Hunter replaced him as head coach at Noxapater.
Both Brandon and Pearl have had difficult seasons. Brandon has struggled to put together a high scoring offense like Rogers, last years’ Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Year, gave the Bulldogs for the past three seasons. They had not scored more than one touchdown in a regulation game all season, but went old school last week with a two tight end formation. It worked. Brandon gained 413 rushing yards on 50 carries and surprised Northwest Rankin 42-21. Ozarrio Smith had 158 yards and two TDs, Nathaniel Blount 138 yards and one TD, Zailon Johnson 60 yards and one TD and quarterback Joshua Sullivan 57 yards and one TD. Look for more of the same against Pearl. Pearl has shown flashes of success with a 42-39 win over Petal and almost two big upsets, a 28-21 overtime loss to Warren Central and a 23-21 loss to Northwest Rankin. Jerry Johnson is Pearl’s 2020 version of Tylan Knight. He plays wide receiver, running back, defensive back and returns kicks. The Pirates need a big game from him along with running back Jamari Thompson, offensive tackle Leo McIntyre and defensive lineman Charles Stevens and Jeremy Jackson to defeat Brandon.
Brandon 21, Pearl 20.
Other games: (Winner in Bold)
Canton (3-5) at Cleveland Central (4-6)
Canton Academy (5-6) at Riverfield, La. (9-1)
Columbia (7-2) at Velma Jackson (6-1)
East Webster (4-4) at Pelahatchie (6-5)
Florence (4-5) at Poplarville (6-3)
Hartfield (7-4) at Leake (10-0)
J.Z. George (4-5) at Pisgah (6-4)
Madison Central (6-3) at Greenville (2-5)
Madison St. Joseph (2-7) at Eupora (5-4)
Oak Grove (8-0) at Northwest Rankin (7-2)
Parklane (4-5) at Jackson Academy (8-3)
Park Place (6-4) at Lamar (6-3)
Puckett (8-2) at Bogue Chitto (5-4)
Starkville (7-2) at Clinton (6-2)
Sumrall (2-7) at Richland (7-2)
Terry (2-7) at Petal (5-4) (Thursday)
Tri-County (7-3) at Wayne Academy (7-3)