Prentiss Christian (4-3, 2-2) at Prairie View (6-1, 2-1), Homecoming, Friday, 7 p.m.
Prairie View takes on Prentiss Christian (Miss.) in the first leg of a critical three-game homestand Friday at 7 p.m.
As far as coach Bo Barton is concerned all three of the Spartans' remaining regular-season games against Prentiss, Briarfield and Claiborne are must-wins. Prairie View, Prentiss and defending state champion Briarfield are battling it out for second place.
"Tallulah has clinched the district championship," Barton said. "What we're playing for right now is to get in the playoffs.
There are no wildcards in MAIS 8-man football. Only the first and second place teams qualify for the eight-team bracket.
"I like it like this," Barton said. "Look at the LHSAA. They have 1-9 teams making the playoffs and getting blown out in the first round. We have 22 teams in our classification. If they let 16 teams in, the first round would basically be all blowouts. The MAIS has eliminated the first round. To be honest, 1-8 can all beat each other on a given night. You get to the second round with four teams left and all four of those teams can beat each other."
Prairie View (6-1, 2-1) and especially Prentiss (4-3, 2-2) have no margin for error.
"We'll either be a No. 5, 6, 7 or 8 seed — that's if we win out. If we win out, we're in," Barton said. "There's a possibility we could be 8-2 and make it, and there's a possibility we could be 8-2 and sitting at home. You are going to have teams that are 7-3 and possibly 8-2 missing the playoffs — that's the negative part.
"I think three of the top teams are in our district — Tallulah, Briarfield and us. Manchester, Marshall and Humphries are just as good as those three. A healthy Prentiss team compares with those teams."
With small rosters, injuries can be devastating in 8-man. Prentiss is a perfect example.
Minus two key players, the Saints were blown out by Tallulah (82-34) and Briarfield (60-20). With all hands available, Prentiss handled Wilkinson County Christian 56-34 last week.
"They were up on Tallulah 34-32 with four minutes left in the half," Barton said. "The difference is, when they have everybody healthy, they have 12 seniors. You're looking at 12 seniors that don't want to see their season end in three weeks. We have six seniors that want to keep playing."
Barton says it's been a hectic week for the Spartans.
"We were out of school Monday and Tuesday for fall break. Homecoming is Friday, so we get out at 12:00. We've have a few kids sick with a virus," Barton said. "We have every kind of obstacle that has nothing to do with football, but has everything to do with football, in front of us.
"If we're not focused, our season is over. Maybe by Friday, we'll get some of those kids back, but we have some things to overcome."
Prentiss is led by quarterback Dalton Magee, running backs Wade Watkins and Robert Buckley, wide receiver Jacob Anderson and tight end Cass Jones. Senior linemen Jerod Dungan, Chase Riley and Hunter Bolin pave the way up front.
"Coach (Randy Holloway) does a good job," Barton said. "Defensively, they get right in your face and challenge you. They force you to run the ball right at their guys on the line. It's going to be a big challenge for us."
Quarterback Luke Denman, who has taken the majority of the snaps the past 3 1/2 games, directs a high-powered Prairie View offense. Denman has completed 48-of-76 passes for 783 yards and one interception. He is also the team's leading rusher with 54 carries for 317 yards and six scores.
Austin Carroll (24-264-7) and Jaheem Brown (25-188) are the running backs.
Layton Woodard (23 receptions, 517 yards, 6 TDs), Greg Tatum (13-211-3), Carroll (12-172) and Brown (9-188-3) are the top receiving threats.
Carroll has a team-high 64 tackles with 11 tackles for loss and two sacks. Among the other defenders to watch are linebackers Gage Riles (24 tackles, 1 TFL) and Jacob Farrar (24 tackles, 3 TFL), Woodard (23 tackles, 2 interceptions) and linemen Tyler Peters (22, 8 TFL, 1 sack) and Brown (22 tackles, 3 TFL).