BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Ask any player on the Biloxi Indians football team, and they'll tell you their coaching staff believed playoff talent was all over their roster going into the 2016 season.
"Our coaches emphasized that we're going to do better and really put it on the seniors to leave a legacy," senior defensive lineman Blayr Case said.
Biloxi (6-5, 4-3) is back in the 6A playoffs for the first time since 2012. In the three seasons after that last postseason run, the Indians won just three times in 22 games, including a stretch of back-to-back 0-7 performances in district.
Overall, Biloxi had lost 16 straight region matchups before ending the skid against Harrison Central in 2016, and even had a shot at the No. 2 seed going into the final week before losing 24-3 to Gulfport.
"I've been so proud of my players. They've played with their hearts and I'm very proud of my staff," Biloxi head coach Bobby Hall said. "They've maximized the talent that we have on hand. We've been in every ballgame that we've played except maybe (D'Iberville). We've won six, but we could've easily won eight."
"He kept us together, even though the bad times he kept us working and the faith up," said senior cornerback Jiles Bradfield, who has played on Biloxi's varsity team since 2013. "He just kept us together, and kept us working even though we were down. We kept the faith."
Biloxi is the fourth seed from region 4-6A and will be facing off against the Pearl Pirates, who took the region 3-6A championship after beating rival Brandon 35-7 last Friday.
"I feel like up north they underestimate us," Case said. "'Oh, they're from the coast, they're city boys' or whatever. We'll definitely let them know that we can hang with them and hang with the big boys."
Pearl (8-3, 7-1) has a balanced offensive attack led by junior quarterback Jake Smithhart and junior running back Johnny Winston, but is currently riding a six-game win streak thanks in large part to a solid defense that has allowed an average of 11.3 points during that stretch.
Hall, who is very familiar with Pearl head coach John Perry going back to their days together at Wayne County High School and Northeast Mississippi Community College, believes his team needs to play turnover-free in order to pull off the playoff victory on the road.
"I'm proud of John. He's had a great year," Hall said. "They're actually a year ahead of schedule because they're predominantly a junior team. We're great friends and we're going to compete hard against each other for 48 minutes."