Prairie View at Wilkinson County Christian, 7 p.m., Woodville, Mississippi
For Prairie View and Wilkinson County Christian, Friday night's football game marks the beginning of a new chapter. Starting time is 7 p.m. in Woodville, Mississippi.
Although both teams have been successful in recent years in 11-man, the Spartans and Rams are embarking on their first season of 8-man.
Prairie View advanced to the quarterfinals in 2015 and 2016 and reached the semifinals last season for the first time as a member of the MAIS.
WCCA won the Class 2A state championship in 2015 and advanced to the semifinals in 2016 before dropping to 1-9 last season.
In the case of both schools, the decision to drop to 8-man simply came down to numbers.
Prairie View lists 21 players on its roster, including six seventh and eighth-graders. According to a roster posted on the Max Preps web site (maxpreps.com), the Rams carry only 16 players.
WCCA defeated the Spartans 20-14 in 2015 and 46-16 in 2016, with Prairie View winning last year's game 44-0.
Prairie View coach Bo Barton, who guided Tallulah to an 8-man state championship, says the playing field is more level this time around.
"Last year, they had the same team speed and more size than we did, but we had more numbers," Barton said. "Now, you can take the numbers and throw them out the door because they don't need but 10 or 11 kids, and they have them.
"Last year, we had 17 football players that got on the field, and WCCA only played 12 kids. Take 17 against 12, and you have the advantage. The difference between 8-man and 11-man is you don't have to hide three people because they're not quite as good as somebody else. You can take those three off the field."
Barton says the 8-man version gives schools who struggled to field an 11-man squad an opportunity to compete.
"You take a smaller school like WCCA which has talent, speed and quickness, and (playing 8-man) benefits them," Barton said. "Everybody's going to have between 5-8 kids that can play at any school around. What the 8-man game does is it allows you to not have as many athletes as somebody else and get away with it, which makes for a more competitive game. That's what our fans and kids got to see in the jamboree."
Prairie View won both of its jamboree games Saturday at ULM, shutting out Franklin Academy 14-0 and edging Tensas Academy 14-12. Both games were 15-minute quarters.
Layton Woodard caught two touchdown passes — one each from quarterbacks Jacob Farrar and Luke Denman — to lead the Spartans in the jamboree. Cornerback Hunter Little set the tone defensively.
With three less defenders on the field, the 8-man game is wide open.
"Our kids are starting to realize that you have a lot of plays that go for 30 yards or better, which means there is more running involved," Barton said. "Our kids came away from the jamboree saying, 'We have to get in better shape.'"
Playing at night rather than noon should help matters from a conditioning standpoint. Prairie View's jamboree starting times were 12:50 and 1:40.
"Overall, I as proud of them," Barton said. "At 1:00 in the afternoon, it was 88 degrees, which makes it 110 degrees on a turf field. We ate our pregame meal at 9:30 in the morning, which throws your body out of whack. I'm excited about playing at 7:00. It'll be cooler and we can get back into our routine."
Barton says the Spartans are going into the WCCA game blind.
"They have a new coach, and they had no scrimmage, no jamboree," Barton said.