Prairie View (9-3) at Tri-County (8-4), Friday, 7 p.m.
Making its first semifinal appearance as a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, the Prairie View Spartans continue their playoff run at Tri-County. Starting time is 7 p.m. Friday in Flora, Mississippi.
Prairie View won its only state football championship in 1988 as a member of the Louisiana Independent School Association.
While the Spartans (9-3) are in uncharted territory, the Rebels (8-4) are on familiar turf. Tri-County has appeared in the last two state championship games, bowing to Canton 21-7 last season and dropping an 8-7 heartbreaker to Wilkinson County Christian in 2015. TCA won its most recent state championship in 2012.
"Tri-County has a whole lot of tradition," Prairie View coach Bo Barton said. "They have been a dominant program for a long time, and this is just another moment for them. They expect to be here. That's the first difference between the two teams. The next difference is they dress out a whole lot more kids than we do, and have a lot more depth."
Like most of the Spartans' opponents of late, TCA is run-oriented.
"They have a lot of weapons," Barton said. "They can line up and play old-school wishbone football. They run it and run it well. If we can't stop their running game, it's going to be a long night."
Unlike most of the Spartans' recent foes, the Rebels are capable of throwing effectively.
"They are well-coached and can adapt to the game," Barton said. "They can go to the spread and throw it all over the field. I would say they run the wishbone better than the spread, but they can throw the ball. We have played some teams that were run-dominated and a couple of teams that were pass dominant. Tri-County does both pretty well."
Barton says TCA is solid on the defensive side, as well.
"Defensively, their kids are going to be where they are supposed to be," Barton said. "You are not going to be able to out-flank them."
Tri-County, the No. 8 seed, has had its ups and downs against a rugged schedule. The Rebels opened the season with a 45-8 win over Sylva-Bay, lost to Madison St. Joseph 24-21, blanked Benton 41-0, bowed to Manchester 27-20 and Canton 31-27, won three straight over Newton 38-7, Greenville Christian 35-13 and River Oaks 21-6 before falling to Greenville St. Joseph 42-7 and edging Hartfield 21-14 in the regular season finale.
On to postseason play, the Rebels took care of Oak Hill 33-13 in the first round and knocked off No. 1 seed Marshall 22-14 last week.
"They come from the toughest district in the state," Barton said. "The games they have lost, other than St. Joseph, were really close games."
Prairie View, the No. 12 seed, brings a three-game winning streak into the contest, including playoff victories over River Oaks (28-20) and Amite School Center (44-30).
"Looking at it on paper, Tri-County and somebody else are supposed to be in the state championship game," Barton said. "People have been saying that all year long. I'm fortunate to coach a bunch of over-achievers. That's a testament to our kids, their families, how they live their lives and how they handle their business. I am blessed and fortunate to coach kids who are willing to sacrifice and do what needs to be done for this team."
Prairie View is led offensively by quarterback Hayes Crockett and tailback Layton Rainbolt, a pair of sophomores.
Crockett has passed for 1,658 yards and 13 touchdowns while being picked only twice in 188 attempts. He is also the team's second-leading rusher with 1,017 yards and 16 TDs.
Rainbolt has accounted for 1,219 yards and 18 scores on the ground, and ranks second on the team in receiving with 30 catches for 452 yards and 1 TD.
Tanner Caldwell is the team's leading receiver with 40 grabs for 589 yards and six scores.
Wide receiver Kentrell Spencer (19 carries, 300 yards, 2 TDs; 15 receptions 273 yards, 4 TDs) has elevated his game during the postseason. Over the past two weeks, he has rushed for 155 yards on two carries, including a pair of touchdowns last week. Seeing double duty at cornerback, Spencer has 57 logged 57 tackles with three interceptions.
End Kolton Farrar (65 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) and tackle Jacob Walker (38, 5 TFL, 5.5 sacks) pace the Spartans up front.
Austin Carroll (125 tackles, 8 TFL, 5.5 sacks), Jacob Farrar (97 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 sacks) and Blake Ray (82 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks) have provided stellar linebacker play all season.
Friday's winner will be paired against the No. 6 Greenville St. Joseph-No. 2 Centreville winner in Thursday's state championship game at Jackson (Miss.) Academy.