By Austin Bishop
The Choctaw Plaindealer
When the 2013 football season began, French Camp was among the favorites in MHSAA Class 1A. Smithville, on the other hand, was in very few conversations.
That’s not the only contrast in the two schools who will meet in the MHSAA Class 1A State Football Championship Game at 11 a.m. on Friday at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. FCA runs a wide-open offense, while Smithville likes to grind out yardage with a power offense. French Camp has been riddled with injuries all season long, while Smithville has run through the season with only a few bumps and bruises. Smithville has two golden footballs signifying state championships in its trophy case, having won titles in 1993 and 1998, while FCA is still looking for its first title.
“We know it’s going to be a good football game between two good teams,” said FCA head coach Nathan Wright. “We have a lot of respect for Smithville and what they’ve had to do to get here. Hopefully both of us will be ready and will give our best on Friday morning.”
The Seminoles of Smithville, who finished in a three-way tie for second place in Region 1-1A has put together an 11-4 overall mark and is currently riding a four-game winning streak, including a convincing 47-24 win over St. Aloysius in the North State Championship Game.
The Panthers of FCA enter Friday’s contest on a five-game winning streak and are 10-5 overall after getting off to an 0-4 start on the season.
“They started out 0-4 because they played four really good teams,” said Smithville head coach Bubba Tacker. We would have probably been 0-4 too if we had played (those teams). I don’t look at records, I look at the team that is here. They are here for a reason and that’s because they do what’s right and are fundamentally sound.”
The Seminoles do a few things right as well.
“We spread you out, but we still run it,” said Smithville head coach Bubba Tacker. “We are not a big passing team. We will throw it if we need to, but we like to keep the ball on the ground and control the clock.”
Senior Tyler Hood has rushed for 1,975 yards and 25 touchdowns on 245 carries to lead the Seminoles, while quarterback Drew Lann picked up 1,157 yards and scored 18 touchdowns on 171 carries. Freshman Dee Moore chipped in with 107 attempts for 883 yards. Lann has connected on 44-of-93 passes for 659 yards and 10 scores.
While French Camp can run the ball, it is the passing of senior quarterback Jesse Hosket that ignites the offense.
“The guy who plays quarterback (Hosket) is a great player and what makes him really good is that he has some really good players around him. It’s going to be a real challenge to try and stop that.”
Hosket hit on 149 of 238 passes for 2,234 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, and is also the team’s second leading rusher with 607 yards on 168 attempts.
Michael Erving is the leading rusher with 909 yards on just 82 carries for an average of 11.09 yards per attempt. Hagan Box caught 43 passes for 445 yards and Cole Henson 32 for 330 yards, while Hunter McKnight piled up 626 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on just 29 catches for an average of 21.59 yards per grab.
While French Camp may have been one of the favorites to return to the title game after dropping a 20-17 decision to Stringer last season, Tacker readily admits very few had his Seminoles penciled in as a potential title game opponent for the Panthers before the season began.
“For us, we always try to set a high expectation for ourselves,” Tacker said. “As far as everybody else across the state, they didn’t think Smithville would do anything. The kids believed from day one they could be here and I think that’s a key for any team here,” he said, “referring to the 12 teams taking part in the MHSAA State Championship Press Conference at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Monday morning. “You take a group of guys that believe they can do it and that goes a long way.”
Smithville opened the season with wins over Belmont (7-0) and Hatley (49-18), before falling to Caledonia 35-21 in the third game of the season. The Seminoles then beat Thrasher (22-7), Biggersville (47-6) and Coldwater (55-22) before falling to Coffeeville 35-22.
After wins of 54-6 over Vardaman and 48-36 against Faulkner the Seminoles dropped a 13-12 decision to league foe Hamilton. Smithville then closed out the regular season with a 33-8 win over Houlka before taking playoff wins over Shaw (22-20), Broadstreet (14-0) and St. Aloysius (47-24) to reach the title game.
While his team has played several good games this season, Tacker said it was the Faulkner game that gave his team the impetus to reach the title game.
“They were leading at half-time and we can out in the second half and just dominated the game,” he said. “We knew right then we had a chance.”