Hattiesburg (4-0) will travel down to the coast Friday night to open up regional play against the Gautier Gators (3-1).
The Tigers have had some impressive non-region victories to start the season, beating two 6A opponents along the way. However, Head Coach Tony Vance and his team view those victories as the “preseason” to get ready for regional play.
“The goal [of non-region games] is to get better each week,” Vance said. “I think we did that. Our coaching staff did a tremendous job and the players did what we asked them to, but we have a lot of room for improvement. We want to put together four solid quarters of great football.”
After going undefeated to start the season, the Tigers used their bye week to work on fundamentals and to develop their younger players.
“We used our bye week to work on Hattiesburg. We spent a lot of time with our JV guys because they are the future of the program,” Vance said.
However, this week the Tigers have a game. A game that matters just a little bit more than the previous games this season. Regional games decided who goes to the playoffs and playoff seeding.
A much improved Gautier has already won as many games, three, in the first four games of the season, as they did all of last season. They too have two victories against 6A opponents under their belt, with their only loss coming against rival Pascagoula.
Dual-threat quarterback Dalyn McDonald is the focal point of the Gator offense. McDonald has 400 yards passing and is the team’s leading rusher with 260 yards on the ground in four games this season and has scored 8 total touchdowns.
“Their quarterback is a versatile player. He can make plays with his feet,” Vance said. “We can’t sell out and stop the run and fall asleep in the secondary.”
The Tiger offense is going to be under pressure Friday night. The Gautier defense likes to bring pressure and stack the box.
“They are going to challenge their guys in the secondary to beat ours,” Vance said. “There’s going to be a lot of one on one matchups that we are going to have to win.”
Tiger quarterback Snoop Conner will have to make smart decisions with the football, whether throwing or handing the ball off, in order to be successful. Hattiesburg’s coaching staff is confident in Conner’s ability and knowledge to run a successful offense.
“[Conner] does a great job managing the game and letting the game come to him,” Offensive Coordinator Ray Pickering said.
The Tigers look to continue their streak of 20 regular season game wins dating back to the 2016 season, and to start off regional play with a victory.
Kickoff is at 7 pm Friday night from Vaughn-Wallace Stadium in Gautier.