Madison Central will wrap up what is possibly the toughest two-game stretch of its season this week, when it takes on perennial 6A contender South Panola.
The Jaguars come into the game with an 7-1 record overall and are tied for second in Region 2 after falling to Starkville last week.
“When you start throwing around names like South Panola and Starkville, you don’t have to do anything to get the kids up,” said head coach Anthony Hart. “They know what they’re about to face. Starkville and South Panola could possibly be the best two teams we play.”
The Jaguars have won three of their last four meetings with the Tigers, including the last one, in the first round of the 2016 MHSAA Class 6A playoffs.
Prior to that meeting, the Jags defeated South Panola 21-19 in the 2016 regular season, and 14-8 in the 2015 postseason. South Panola won the 2015 regular season meeting in a 24-6 decision.
Meanwhile, Big Blue is enjoying its best start in recent years and has one of the toughest defenses in the region.
Hart credits the success to his team’s ability to hold onto leads and “finishing games.”
“We’ve been able to win a game or two early in the year that we were not able to in the past,” he said. “Our teams have all been good, but we’re able to finish better than some of the ones in the past.”
Through the first eight games, the Jaguars had outscored opponents 222 to 88. Four teams have been held to seven or fewer points, with the most being 212, scored by Pearl in week four.
The defense is led by senior Hayes Bufkin, who has 59 total tackles, including four for a loss, senior Nick Carter, who has 50 tackles, junior Joseph Perryman, who has 44 and junior Creek Robertson with 43.
The Jaguar offense is helmed by the versatile Jimmy Holiday, who has passed for 794 yards and eight touchdowns and has rushed for 1021 yards and 15 scores.
“Our quarterback does a great job of making throws. We’re probably two-thirds run, one-third pass, but we will do whatever we have to do to win a ball game,” Hart said.
“When you have a good quarterback, you have a chance. And he is a great player. He’s a great runner and throws the ball well,” he said. “You have to stop (the run and the pass) when you face him.”
Top receivers include senior Logan Reed. Holiday has connected with him for 165 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Ben Davis, who has 147 yards and one touchdown.
Senior Javarius Jordan and senior Luke Robertson, junior Tyler Austin and sophomore Blake Gunter have also notched receiving touchdowns.
Madison’s rushing corps includes junior Duke Arnold, who has 392 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, and Jordan, who has 347 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown.
By comparison, South Panola (8-1, 3-1) has outscored opponents 295 to 87. Like the Jaguars, the Tigers are a primarily rushing team, and through the first eight games averaged 327 yards on the ground, compared to 121 through the air.
“Most nights, stopping (the rush) isn’t complicated, but is a physical feat,” Hart said. “We know what they’re going to do and they’ll know what we’re going to do, and we have to see if we’re physically matched up to stop them.”
The Jaguars will take on South Panola at home on Friday, October 25. The game begins at 7 p.m.
Madison Central’s KEYS To Victory
-Stop South Panola’s ground game: The Tigers average 329 rushing yards per game. Stop this, and the Jaguars stymie the offense.
-Start and finish strong: In its first eight games, South Panola outscored opponents 100 to 28 in the first quarter and 50 to 16 in the fourth quarter. Coach Anthony Hart said this Madison Central team is better at finishing games this year. They’ll have to be to defeat the Tigers.
Madison Central’s Season at a glance
-Record: 7-1, 3-1
-Class 6A Region 2, MHSAA
-Biggest win: 42-0 versus Vicksburg
-Only loss: 24-21 versus Starkville
-Head Coach: Anthony Hart