CATEGORY: FOL High School Football

AUTHOR: WAYNE

HED:Countdown to kickoff

By Wayne Clements

Daily Journal

The waiting is over. This is not a drill. Get ready to hit somebody.

After three weeks of preseason drills, high school football hits the field at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and, if predictions count for anything, this week's games could be as good as they get.

Friday's opening slate of games contains a handful of games good enough to be division championships or playoff games, headed by this season's game of the century: Amory at Ripley.

Amory, for those fans who have forgotten, has lost one game in the past three seasons. That one game, a 42-30 upset at home last season, came at the hands of the Ripley Tigers. Nobody from either town has forgotten that game.

"Our first six games are brutal," Amory coach Bobby Hall said. "I think it'll be a big game for both teams. It might be the biggest game in the area, possibly in the state, opening night. We'll both probably come out ranked."

Despite identical 7-1 records, Ripley's 12-point win kept the Panthers out of the playoffs after winning state Class 3A titles in 1994 and '95. Ripley and Shannon advanced out of Division 1-3A thanks to the Mississippi High School Athletic Association's tie-breaker.

Ripley running back Rico McDonald made his name in that game, rushing for a school-record 350 yards. Amory tailback Steve Griffin, a junior, rushed for 2,110 yards last season while McDonald finished with 1,683 yards.

Realignment last spring moved Amory into Division 2-3A with 1996 state 3A champion Shannon, leaving Ripley, New Albany and Pontotoc in Division 1-3A. This game won't mean anything as far as the playoffs go, but it'll mean the world to two towns Friday night.

Shannon opens defense of its title by hosting Holly Springs. The Red Raiders must replace everybody's player of the year, Romaro Miller, at quarterback. Stepping into his shoes will be senior Corey Johnson, a wide receiver last season.

Class 2A champion Bruce opens its season at Baldwyn, where the Trojans will meet Bearcats running back Brad Price. Price rushed for 1,206 yards as the Bearcats went 8-2 last year. The Trojans lost their starting running backs to graduation, but return senior quarterback Freddie Bullard. Bullard will get help from a sophomore class that didn't lose a game in junior high.

In other games, Okolona opens the season at defending Class 1A champion Weir, while Smithville hosts Vardaman in a clash of Northeast Mississippi Class 1A powers. Tupelo opens the season on the road at Brandon.

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