HURLEY, MS (WLOX) - Week 11 of the high school football season features many games on the Mississippi gulf coast that have serious implications regarding the playoff race.
The East Central-Picayune game is one of those critical matchups that could shape the region 4-5A race in multiple ways. Picayune (8-0, 5-0) can clinch the region 4-5A title with a win, while an upset win for East Central (3-6, 2-3) would immensely help their chances to crack the playoffs.
The defending 5A champion Maroon Tide have actually won 16 consecutive games dating back to last season. The previous loss for Picayune happened during the 2013 season when the Maroon Tide fell 26-21 to Pascagoula.
East Central is in a three-way tie along with Stone and George County for the final playoff spot in region 4-5A. After facing Picayune this Friday, the Hornets face George County in the season finale.
"We're very confident that we can go into these next few games and turn out a win," East Central senior quarterback Jarik Biggs said. "We're ready for Friday."
Both Picayune and East Central feature potent rushing attacks but the Hornets' performance in a 55-48 win over Long Beach last week featured the most impressive individual effort of the season.
Senior running back Nate Cohen finished the contest with 491 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Despite the rare numbers, Cohen was quick to say that his teammates were the main reasons for the successful night.
"Without the people behind me blocking and leading the way, it wouldn't have been possible," Cohen said. "Without everybody doing their assignments and everybody executing perfectly, I couldn't do anything."
One of those crucial blockers is the one that hands Cohen the football. Even though Biggs is the quarterback, in head coach Seth Smith's system, his job doesn't stop after Cohen receives the handoff.
"My job is to block for my running back," Biggs said. "I have to open up holes for him to score touchdowns."
"When every kid plays with maximum effort like these young men have, you have a chance to be successful," Smith said. "We've been fortunate the past couple weeks because of the way our kids have been playing. Hopefully they're setting a standard that we can maintain for many years to come."
Smith is in his second year as the head coach at East Central High School. While the football program hasn't made the playoffs in 12 years, he won't use that as an excuse if the playoff drought extends another year.
Ending the absence streak isn't the only thing on the line for East Central this week. Smith spent some time on the Pearl River Central and Picayune coaching staffs earlier in his career and is the son-in-law to the opposing head coach this week -- Picayune's Dodd Lee.