River Oaks (3-5, 0-0) at Prairie View (6-2, 1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
Aiming to clinch its third straight district championship, the Prairie View Spartans host the River Oaks Mustangs on Friday at 7 p.m.
"We have a core group of seniors that have won two district championships and are shooting for a third," Prairie View coach Bo Barton said. "That's hard to do, but it's what they are trying to accomplish."
Besides the MAIS District 5-2A title, the Spartans (6-2, 1-0) would lock up a playoff berth and a first-round home game for the upcoming playoffs. Then again, the rivalry itself provides ample incentive for both sides.
"I've never been a part of it, but I understand it's a good rivalry game," Barton said. "We're playing for the district title and a home playoff game, which makes it even more meaningful. But that's not what we're playing for. It just adds a little butter to the bread so to speak. The way (River Oaks coach) Robert Hannah does things and the way I do things, every game is meaningful. What makes it meaningful is it's our next ballgame."
River Oaks (3-5) opens conference play Friday night before facing Glenbrook next week. Barton says the Mustangs' record is a reflection of their tough schedule.
"Everybody they were supposed to beat, they have beaten handily," Barton said. "They have played a bunch of 3A and 4A schools and the No. 1 team in MAIS 2A (St. Joseph)."
River Oaks has posted wins over Claiborne in Week 1 (34-0), Union Christian (20-6) in Week 5 and Deer Creek (33-0) in Week 6, while losing to East Rankin (55-28), Riverfield (34-0), Copiah (14-0), St. Joseph (44-14) and Tri-County (21-6).
"I have a lot of respect for what coach Hannah has done at River Oaks over the years," Barton said. "They are the best-coached team we've played. Their offensive and defensive linemen come off the ball with very low hats and get after you."
There is no finesse to the Mustangs' offense. In fact, River Oaks has attempted only 42 passes the entire season.
"River Oaks is a big, physical team," Barton said. "It's no secret that their strength is their bulk, their aggressiveness and their physicalness. They use that strength to shorten the game. Tri-County had the ball twice in the first half last week, and River Oaks was up 6-0 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
"They have some guys who are not afraid to get 3-4 yards. We have to find a way to get them off the field, and I don't know if we can do that."
River Oaks averages 266.9 total yards per game, including 244.3 ypg rushing.
Tyler Avery (108 carries, 634 yards, 6 TDs) and Trenton Smith (80-434-2) have carried the bulk of the load.
Quarterback Drake Tannehill has completed 16-of-40 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown. On the rare occasions the Mustangs pass, Tannehill usually looks in the direction of Bradley Black (10 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD).
Topping the Mustangs' tackle chart are linebackers Rico Gonzalez (89 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 interception) and Michael Hollman (58 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack) and end Samuel Alexander (52 tackles, 12 TFL, 3 sacks).
"Defensively, they are extremely sound and know their assignments," Barton said.
Prairie View's only losses have come at the hands of a pair of Class 3A teams, Riverfield (34-18) in Week 5 and Central Private (27-20) last week. Barton expects the Spartans to benefit from the two hard-fought games Friday night.
"Riverfield and Central Private were both big and physical," Barton said. "Hopefully, those two games have prepared us for what River Oaks is about to do."
With the regular season winding down, Barton says it's time for the Spartans to start peaking.
"The whole year is about trying to get ready for the playoffs," Barton said. "I still don't think we have played our best ballgame — I think it's still laying out there. We haven't played a great ballgame yet, and that's what it's going to take to beat River Oaks.
"I've been through the fire with these kids. I've been through a baseball season with them and some hard-fought football games. I think our kids will respond to the challenge, and I'm looking forward to seeing us in action."
Prairie View is led offensively by sophomore quarterback Hayes Crockett, who has completed 76-of-140 passes for 1,135 yards, 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Crockett also ranks second on the team in rushing with 106 carries for 689 yards and 11 scores.
Another sophomore, Layton Rainbolt, leads the team in rushing (101 carries, 782 yards, 12 TDs) and is second on the squad in receiving (20 receptions, 302 yards).
Tanner Caldwell (26-412-5) and Layton Woodard (11-221-2) are the wide receivers.
Setting the tone for the Spartans defensively are linebackers Austin Carroll (63 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 forced fumbles, 2 INTs), Jacob Farrar (52 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT) and Blake Ray (41 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF, 4 fumble recoveries) and end Kolton Farrar (40 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack).
Prairie View wraps up regular season play next Friday in Haynesville vs. Claiborne Academy.