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Corinth's Cayden Betts turns the corner on the Shannon defense in the third quarter of the teams' season opener.

The road to Hattiesburg is a hard one, and it begins tonight for teams in Classes 2A, 3A and 4A.

Five wins lie between now and the championship trophy presentations at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the campus of Southern Miss.

There are a handful of area teams who I believe can put it together for a title run. Let’s take a look:

Class 4ACorinth has steadily built itself into a contender under Todd Lowery, who is in his fourth year as head coach.

The Warriors (9-1) have reached the third round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and they’ve now won their first Division 1-4A title since 2015.

This team is built for a deep run, and it starts with the Wing-T rushing attack that averages 283 yards per game. Tam Patterson leads a deep stable of backs, including quarterback D.T. Sheffield.

What should really carry the Warriors, though, is an improved defense. They’re allowing just 12.6 points per game half of what they yielded last season. They shut out Shannon, Kossuth and Ripley, teams that all have dynamic running backs.

First up is Caledonia (5-5).

Class 3A

Booneville is the likeliest 3A candidate to make a deep run, but it’s going to be a brutal road.

The top-seeded Blue Devils (8-2) will first entertain North Panola (7-3), which can run it and throw it with near equal effectiveness. Win that one, and then it’s either Houston or Winona, which reached the North final last season.

The Blue Devils have been playing better on defense of late, and they have an equalizer in Davian Price, who can make plays on offense, defense and special teams.

Class 2A

There’s a reason coaches everywhere love the saying, “Defense wins championships.” Because it’s true.

That’s why Calhoun City, as unimpressive as it’s been on offense at times, has a shot. The Wildcats (7-3) have tossed three shutouts and held four other opponents to seven points.

A tough early schedule featuring Houston, Choctaw County and reigning 3A champ Water Valley is paying off. The offensive numbers went up in division play, as Calhoun City averaged 304 rushing yards and 41 points per game.

The emergence of senior Jayden Griffin at running back has provided a boost. He’s rushed for 332 yards and two touchdowns over the last three games.

Teams in Classes 1A, 5A and 6A open the playoffs next week. The state championships are set for Dec. 6 and 7.

Brad Locke is senior sports writer for the Daily Journal. Contact him on Twitter @bradlocke or via email at brad.locke@journalinc.com.

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