By Curtis Rockwell, Sports Editor
The Picayune Item
Entering the state playoffs, Picayune is the only unbeaten prep football team in the state of Mississippi in the top two classifications in Mississippi.
And if the Mroon Tide is to defend their Class 5A state championship, they will have to remain that way for the next four weeks.
Picayune opens the Class 5A South State playoffs Friday at home, hosting Brookhaven in Maroon Tide Stadium at 7 p.m.
The Maroon Tide stand 10-0 on the season, completing their third perfect regular season in the past 11 seasons last week with a 44-14 win over West Harrison. Picayune finished 7-0 in Region 4-5A play and took the league title for the second straight year.
Picayune has won 17 straight games, which is the longest current win streak in the MHSAA. The longest win streak in MHSAA history is South Panola's 89 game win streak.
The Maroon Tide moved up another spot in this week's USA Today Super 25 national prep poll to number 21.
Ole' Brook, as the Tide's opponent is fondly referred to, comes into the game at an unspectacular 5-5 overall. The Panthers beat South Jones 62-43 last week to finish 4-3 in Region 3-5A play and earn the fourth and final playoff spot in that district.
"Don't be fooled by their record," veteran Picayune head coach Dodd Lee said, of the Panthers. "The teams they have lost to are some very good teams, they haven't lot to any cupcakes. They are much better than a number four seed."
Three scores in the fourth-quarter provided the Panthers with a strong finish and the home win over South Jones last week. Brookhaven could have been eliminated from the playoff chase all together if Pearl would have beaten McComb.
But Brookhaven's archrival knocked off Pearl 36-29 in double-overtime to secure the Panthers postseason berth.
Picayune has two running backs on the verge of breaking the magical 1,000 yard rushing mark, as both Preston Dedeaux and Doug Cross stand on that threshold with each just over 950 yards on the season.
Dedeaux is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out of four games in the middle of the season, after he opened the year rushing for over 800 yards in four games.
Cross took over the bulk of the running duties, but was injured last week against the Hurricanes and his status for this week's playoff opener is uncertain. Cross also starts at defensive end.
Linebacker Jacorea Poole is the Tide's top tackler, with 108 total stops. safety Nick Marble has 77 total tackles, while end James Tatum, tackle Semaj Branch, linebacker Sam Hickman and safety Tony Washington all have 60-plus tackles each as well.
Defensive backs Jordan Dedeaux and Kardarrius Cross each have three interceptions in the secondary.
These two teams are fairly familiar with one another, as they were members of the same district in 2009-2010. Picayune won both regular season meetings during that stretch.
The last time the Maroon Tide and Panthers faced off in the playoffs was 2005, when homestanding Picayune upset the then defending Class 4A state champion Panthers and state-wide player of the year Jimmy Johns 13-10 on a field goal by Erveng Gonzalez with just over two minutes to play in the game.
“We are the defending state champs and we will get everybody’s best shot no matter what their record is,” Lee concluded. “We just have to go out and play hard and limit our mistakes.”