High school rivalry games always have that extra energy in the air. The roars are a little louder. The hits are a little harder. The pregame buzz at school lasts a little longer, and the outcome doesn’t get forgotten until next season.
South Pike and Tylertown, who sit on opposite sides of a county line, have had this kind of rivalry for generations. And the latest chapter will be written on Tylertown’s home turf Friday night. The Chiefs will be seeking revenge after South Pike won the last two meetings, 30-9 in 2019 and 28-14 last fall.
“It’s a rivalry game. It’s gonna be a big buzz,” Tylertown head coach Osborne Holmes said. “Everybody’s been talking about this game since they whooped us pretty good these last couple years. Everybody’s excited — ain’t no better game to play than South Pike.”
This year’s Eagles, though, are still trying to find their footing after a turbulent start. South Pike went into COVID-19 quarantine just before the season began, sidelining the team for 10 days and forcing two forfeit losses. Then came Hurricane Ida, which shut the team down again and left several players’ families without power.
All of that, plus a roster with plenty of unanswered questions entering the season, was too much to overcome last Friday, as the Eagles fell 27-0 at East Central. South Pike’s quarterbacks completed 1 of 9 passes for five yards and threw two interceptions. The team’s 149 rushing yards were largely undone by fumbles.
Head coach Brinson Wall says his Eagles played hard, but still have a long way to go.
“We’ve really slowed things down and tried to (say), ‘We're going to get better each week,’ and we really mean that,” Wall said. “You’ll hear a lot of people say that, but we're still trying to install what we want to do. We’ve got a lot of new faces, so we're still trying to put people in the right positions. We didn't get a spring to do that and obviously we missed the jamboree and the first two ballgames, so we're having to do it on the run.”
Tylertown, meanwhile, enters with a 3-0 record and the seventh-most votes in the Associated Press’ 3A state rankings. The Chiefs held off Wesson for a 35-30 win in their season opener, then cruised past West Marion 38-12 and topped Brookhaven 32-22.
Holmes’ team suffered a tough blow early this month, as Kentucky wide receiver commit Jordan Anthony went down with an injury against West Marion and will miss four to five weeks. The Chiefs, though, still have plenty of talent on the roster. Jeremiah Dillon is another three-star prospect and an Ole Miss pledge. Quarterback Amerion Jefferson, running back/linebacker Tyler Ellzey and receiver/cornerback Kendrick Lampton are all off to strong starts, and Tylertown has experience on both lines.
“It was a big adjustment (playing without Anthony), but our kids played hard and worked together,” Holmes said. “Everybody stepped up when their number was called and they did their part. Ain’t nobody try to be Superman — just play team ball and do what we had to do.”
South Pike knows it won’t be easy to slow down Tylertown’s offense, especially with a player like Dillon, who can burn a defense in one play. But the Eagles do return eight starters on defense, so the staff has confidence in that unit.
It’s the offense, then, that remains in question. The Eagles’ lack of game or practice reps was on display last week; even the snap from the center to the quarterback was a challenge. Wall knows not all of those warts will be removed by this weekend, but he’s hopeful that South Pike can stay in the game with its effort and energy.
“I expect our kids to play hard,” Wall said. “We may not play well at times, but a lot of times, if you can play with great effort, you know, and you keep playing for four quarters you can overcome some mistakes.”
The records will tell you this is an 0-3 team playing on the road against a 3-0 team. But rivalry games like this are never as predictable as they might seem. South Pike certainly hopes that’s the case, and that a full week of practice is the boost this team needed.
“I think maybe now my kids realize that the season is really going to get started. I think that kind of hindered us for a while,” Wall said. “It’s a big game for us and our kids have shown a lot of focus this week and I hope that it shows in our play Friday night.”