A titanic battle awaits Friday night when Ridgeland Titans clash with Neshoba Central in Philadelphia. Both teams are undefeated in 5A Region 2 play with the winner clinching a home playoff game and potentially the region title. The Rockets are ranked #3 in the Mississippi AP Poll and #1 in Class 5A. It will also feature two of the state’s best players in Ridgeland’s quarterback Zy McDonald and Neshoba’s running back Jarquez Hunter.
In his first year with the Titans, Head Coach Sam Williams has his team off to a 5-1 overall start with impressive wins over Pearl 34-14, Terry 48-18, Canton 40-12, Cleveland Central 44-12 and Vicksburg 49-32. The only blemish came against Northwest Rankin 48-22.
“So far this has been an incredibly fun year,” said Williams. “When we had our first team meeting, I asked them about their goals. They all said, win the district, win the North and win the state championship. My reply was ‘Why not us?’ Here we are with a chance to accomplish the first of those with a win Friday night.
Ridgeland is averaging 42 points in region games and is led by an almost mythical quarterback in senior Zy McDonald.
Zy, a Louisiana-Lafayette commit, is very Zeus-like in leading this offense with both his arm and legs. He’s thrown for more than 1,414 yards (an average of 285 a game), 16 touchdowns with just one interception. One of those touchdowns was a 99 yarder against Pearl earlier this season. McDonald has also rushed for more than 300 yards, scoring five touchdowns and has a combined average of 345 yards a game.
“He is a very special player,” said Williams. “He is having to learn a third offense in three years with the coaching changes and he just continues to get better. Zy is a tremendous leader and competitor.”
The wide receivers have put forth a herculean effort as well so far this year.
Senior Richard Mays (6’2” 200lbs.), a Louisiana-Monroe commit, has 554 yards and four touchdowns. Mays is averaging 21 yards a catch and hauled in the 99 yarder against Pearl.
Sophomore Ayden Williams, (6’2” 175 lbs.) has 420 yards and five touchdowns. Williams is a budding star with two more years to play.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever had,” says Coach Williams. “Ayden is blessed with natural talent. “His moves and ball skills are incredible. It is so much fun to watch him play.”
Keep an eye out for two other Titan playmakers in senior receiver Antoine Brown and junior running back Donovan Ball.
Defensively, Ridgeland is allowing just 12 points per game in region.
Sophomore linebacker Travis Posey leads the team with 32 tackles. Senior Defensive Back Kendreal Thompson is stout with 21 tackles, four for loss. Senior defensive end Zion Nason has the ability to shut down the line of scrimmage with 15 tackles, five for losses,
Also senior defensive back Chandler Williams is coming off a huge game against Cleveland Central where he returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown.
On the other side, Neshoba Central has been perfect this season with a 6-0 overall record with big wins against Tupelo 25-17, West Lauderdale 49-14, Scott Central 27-16, Holmes County Central 35-8, Vicksburg 34-6 and Canton 35-12.
The offense is averaging 35 points in region games and while football is a team game, the Rockets are fueled by one big engine. Senior running back Jarquez Hunter is phenomenal. Through six games he has blasted his way for 1,117 yards on 167 carries for six touchdowns. Hunter is averaging nearly seven yards a carry and 186 yards a game. He is uncommitted on a college, but sports 13 Division I scholarship offers. Among those in the running for his talents next year are Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Tennessee, and Memphis.
Defensively, Neshoba is dominant only yielding an average 8 points a contest. Leading the way is junior linebacker Jaharan Griffin, who leads the team in tackles with 74. He has an amazing 19 tackles for loss and five sacks. Not far behind is a fellow linebacker in junior Kelbee Holmes. Holmes has recorded 66 tackles with 15 of those behind the line of scrimmage.
Titans Coach Williams knows and has an appreciation for the spotlight that will be on this game from around the state.
“I’ve had my players take a step back and look at what we are playing for this week. It’s an awesome showcase for two phenomenal players in Zy and Jarquez. We know if we are going to reach the top we’ve got to get through them.”
Williams also added that in this strange COVID-plagued season, both of these teams know they are just blessed to play each week. Teams in this region are only playing five district games this year because Provine and Callaway had to opt out of the season.
Keys to Victory:
For Ridgeland offense: Zy McDonald just needs to be himself. The Rockets have a stingy defense. McDonald needs to take what they give him, whether it’s an underneath short gainer, a deep ball or even take off or just pull the ball down and run. Be patient and don’t turn the ball over.
For Ridgeland Defense: Understand Jarquez Hunter is going to get yards, just limit the big plays. Force the Rockets to drive the ball down the field with multiple plays.
The series (since 2004): Ridgeland leads 8-6
Last meeting: Neshoba Central won 42-28 (2019)