Veteran 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 County. Wilson had a 5-2 record last week (71.4 percent) and has a 253-71 record (78.1 percent) for the season.

Taylorsville (8-5) at Velma Jackson (12-0)

Velma Jackson coach Bernard Euell will try to make school history Friday night in the MHSAA Class 1A semifinals in the Northeast Madison County community of Camden.

       Velma Jackson has never advanced to the state championship game in football in school history.

       Euell, who was an All-State wide receiver at Jackson Jim Hill High and started at Mississippi State, has taken Velma Jackson to two semifinal appearances in his eight seasons at Velma Jackson. The Falcons finished with an 8-5 record and lost to Scott Central 32-7 in the Class 2A semifinals last season and finished with a 12-2 record and lost to Charleston 46-17 in the Class 3A semifinals in 2016, Euell’s first season at Velma Jackson.

       Velma Jackson had never gotten past the second round in the playoffs before Euell came.

       This might be the year Velma Jackson goes all the way. The Falcons have been dominating this season, averaging 43.4 points per game and allowing only 3.8 points per game. Consider this: Resurrection Catholic scored 13 points in a Velma Jackson’s 40-13 win last week in the quarterfinals and they were first team to score more than eight points all season. Six teams didn’t score.

       Velma Jackson senior running back Gavin Griffin – a member of the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – has had an outstanding career. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Griffin has gained 1,589 yards – averaging 11.4 yards per carry – and scored 29 touchdowns while only playing an average of half of the games due to the one-sided victories this season. He has had nine 100-yard games.

Griffin gained 1,663 yards on 183 carries (a 9.1-yard average) and scored 25 TDs in 10 games last season as a junior. He had nine games where he gained 100 or more rushing yards. Griffin also returned 11 kickoffs for a 28.1-yard average. He had a career-high 303 yards and six TDs against Leake Central last season.

Griffin gained 1,156 yards on 147 carries, a 10.3-yard average, and scored 16 TDs last season and led Velma Jackson to an 8-3 record and a No. 5 final ranking in Class 2A in MaxPreps two years ago as a sophomore.

He has offers from Alcorn State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley, and Southern Illinois. Euell said Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Cincinnati, South Alabama, and Troy has shown interest in Griffin.

Senior quarterback Terrelle Smith (1,851 passing yards, 31 TDs, only 1 interception), senior wide receiver Kentevian Young (21 catches, 613 yards, 9 TDs) and senior wide receiver Lamar Kennedy (21 catches, 630 yards, 10 TDs) are other key offensive players for Velma Jackson.

Junior defensive lineman Tyshun Willis (95 tackles, 26 for loss, 18 sacks, 2 blocked punts, 2 caused fumbles), senior linebacker Cornell Bacon (77 tackles), senior linebacker Kye Washington (120 tackles, and senior linebacker Leroderick Harris (101 tackles) are Velma Jackson’s top defensive players.

Taylorsville is no stranger to the pressure of the playoffs. The Tartars have won eight state championships and been in 14 state title games in school history. Taylorsville lost to Bay Springs 52-6 in the 2A state semifinals last season. The Tartars defeated Calhoun City 42-0 for the state championship in 2020, their fourth consecutive state title appearance, also winning in 2017 and 2019.

Seth McDonald is in his second year as Taylorsville’s head coach.

Taylorsville junior quarterback Laza Beavers has thrown for 2,100 yards and 19 TDs, senior running back Cobey Craft has 1,075 rushing yards and 13 TDs and sophomore wide receiver Trey Barnes has caught 32 passes for 594 yards and 4 TDs and junior wide receiver receiver Dre Keyes has caught 27 passes for 446 yards and 7 TDs. Junior defensive back Reco Crosby has a team-high 91 tackles and sophomore defensive back Calvin Scott has a team-high six interceptions.

Velma Jackson 28, Taylorsville 21.

Oak Grove (11-1) at Brandon (10-2)

These two teams will meet in the MHSAA Class 7A semifinals in a rematch of a regular season meeting.

Brandon defeated Oak Grove 38-20 Oct. 13 at Oak Grove in a Region 3 game. Brandon jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and never trailed.

Brandon senior running back and Louisiana-Monroe commitment Nate Blount had 103 yards and one TD and freshman running back Tyson Robinson had 65 rushing yards and one TD and 97 receiving yards and one TD. Senior defensive lineman-linebacker Jaeden Calender had a team-high 14 tackles and junior linebacker Khalil Norwood – nephew of legendary Brandon running back and former Mississippi State and NFL running back Jerious Norwood – had a 53-yard interception return for TD.

Third-year Brandon coach Sam Williams will make his third consecutive state championship with a win over Oak Grove Friday. Brandon has been the 6A state runner-up for the past two seasons, losing to Madison Central two years ago and to Starkville last season. He has a 34-7 record in three seasons at Brandon.

Oak Grove is led senior quarterback and Texas A&M commit Anthony Maddox (2,760 passing yards, 31 TDs, 340 rushing yards, 6 TDs) and senior wide receiver and LSU commitment PJ Woodland (1,091 receiving yards, 9 TDs).

Oak Grove coach Drew Causey has an 88-29 record in nine seasons, including one state title in 2020 and two state runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2019.

Oak Grove is the only team with three players rated in the 247 Sports’ Top 17 in Mississippi in the Class of 2024 (defensive lineman and Southern Miss commit Caleb Moore is No. 11, Woodland, who also plays defensive back, is No. 15 and quarterback and Maddox is No. 17). And there is only other school – 6A semifinalist South Panola – with two in the top 17.

Oak Grove and Brandon are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in Mississippi by MaxPreps. Brandon is ranked No. 220 and Oak Grove No. 222 in the Top 300 national poll by High School Football America.

Brandon has won 10 straight games. The Bulldogs should make it 11.

Brandon 28, Oak Grove 21

Madison Central (8-4) at Starkville (9-3)

This MHSAA Class 7A semifinal is a matchup between the last two 6A state champions and a regular season rematch.

Madison Central finished 13-1 and won the 6A state title two years ago.Starkville gave Madison Central its only loss with a 35-28 decision in Starkville in the fourth game of the season. The Jaguars defeated Starkville 34-12 in the semifinals at Starkville.

Starkville finished 12-2 and won the 6A state last season. Madison Central handed Starkville its first loss after winning the first four games of the season with a 41-21 decision at Madison.

Starkville defeated Madison Central 39-7 in a Region 2 game Oct. 27 at Starkville.

Madison Central and Starkville finished 2-2 in the region, but Starkville won the tiebreaker as the No. 2 seed and Madison Central was the No. 3 seed.

Madison Central coach Toby Collums, who played at Smithville High, Itawamba Community College and Mississippi College, has a 106-51 career record in 13 seasons as a head coach, including a 29-9 record in three seasons at Madison Central. He was named the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year in 2020 after leading Northwest Rankin to a turnaround season, improving by six wins, had a 9-4 record and won a second-round playoff game for the first time in school history.

       Starkville coach Chris Jones, who played at Noxubee County High and Jackson State, has a 121-31 career record and two state titles (one each at Kemper County and one at Starkville) in his 11 seasons as head coach. He has a 76-19 record in his seven seasons in Starkville.

       Madison Central’s top players are quarterback Jaiden Johnson, wide receiver Ryan Dulaney, running back Glenn Singleton, tight end Micah Jones, linebackers Ryan McCall, Rickey Banks and Jameson Moseley and cornerback Denym Mitchell.

       Starkville has four players – quarterback Trey Petty, wide receiver Braylon Burnside, running back Jay Stevenson and offensive lineman Si Thomas – who are playing in all-star games after the season. Petty and Burnside will be representing Mississippi in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game in December in Hattiesburg. Stevenson and Thomas are playing for the North in the Bernard Blackwell-Star Classic in December at Gulfport.

       Starkville is one of three teams in Mississippi with two players rated in the Top 23 recruits in the Class of 2024 by 247 Sports composite.

       Burnside is rated the No. 7 player in Mississippi and No. 13 athlete in the country. Petty, an Illinois commitment, is rated the No. 23 player in Mississippi and No. 49 quarterback in the country.

       Madison Central doesn’t have any players in either all-star game for probably the first time in decades.

Starkville 21, Madison Central 14