In this edition of Magnolia Prep's game of the week we focus on what may be the most competitive overall region in the state - 3-5A. As we've all seen over the past few years anything can happen in this region and the title usually runs through Soso or Waynesboro.
On Thursday night a key region game will take place at Gulf Coast Community College as the Stone Tomcats (3-4) host the No. 2 ranked West Jones Mustangs.
The Tomcats enter the game with a less than impressive record but they have played one of the toughest schedules in the state. They opened the season with a last second 32-27 loss to No. 15 Long Beach, 6A power George County (31-28) barely slipped by the Tomcats in week two. They've dropped two district games to No. 7 Picayune and No. 8 Wayne County.
Led by one of the state's best quarterbacks in Clint Hatten, Stone is a dangerous offensive team. So far this season Hatten has tallied for 1,623 yards on 91 of 143 passing with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has also been effective on the ground rushing for 504 yards on 65 carries and scored one touchdown.
Stone all everything ATH Darion Arrington is one of the best college prospects in the state and has committed to Miss State. On the year he has rushed for 621 yards on just 60 carries and scored eight rushing touchdowns. He's pulled in 18 receptions for 264 yards and a score. But, the defensive side of the ball is where he shines. In seven games he's notched 69 total tackles, including a season high 18 last week against Picayune.
West Jones will counter that offensive firepower with the state's best defense. In six games this year the Mustangs have allowed nine total points, and the first team defense hasn't surrendered a point on the year.
Junior safety Artis Thigpen leads the vaunted Mustang defense with 60 total tackles on the year, but he's not alone. The swarming Mustang defense has 10 players who have notched more than 25 stops on the year including senior linebacker Michael Barrett.
The Mustangs have been ball hawks this year picking off 14 errant passes on the season. Hatten will have to be mindful of this because he has been careless at times this year flinging the ball out trying to make something happen.
On the offensive side of the ball the Mustangs feature one of Mississippi's best pure passers in Ben Stevens. Stevens has completed 70 percent of his passes this year for 999 yards, 12 touchdowns against three interceptions, and he's usually been on the bench after the half. Stevens isn't looking to run when he drops back, but he is shifty in the pocket and can create space, he has two rushing scores on the year.
The rushing attack is a two headed monster for West Jones featuring two solid backs - Devonte Barrnett and Ervin Gavin.
The Bottom Line:
West Jones is the clear favorite in this game and they should win, but Stone is the best offensive team they've seen this year and should make a competitive game at least for a half. For Stone to have success against one of the nation's best defensive football teams Clint Hatten must take care of the ball. At times this year he's looked brilliant throwing and running the ball, but every turn-over against a team like West Jones is a costly one.
West Jones' young offensive line has grown up and they're getting better and better every week, they're giving Stevens time to throw and opening up lanes for the half-dozen or so running backs that see action in almost every game.
Prediction: Both teams are well coached and disciplined. The best player on the field will be Darion Arrington from Stone, but at the end of the day there's just too much Mustangs.