2020 Week 16 (Mississippi)

2020 Week 16 (Missisippi)

So, Week 16 wasn’t really planned. Honestly, with the way things were going, I was thinking the Pennsylvania finals were going to be the end of the season for me. Initially, earlier this year as things were being scheduled, I had considered Tennessee.

Tennessee had pushed back the start of their season, but were planning to finish on time. However, playing at a small stadium in Cookeville, meant that instead of an ‘all-day ticket’, they were switching to individual tickets for each game. At $12 each, plus fee, the 9 games, if you could get all nine, would be $108 plus fees. Of course, the drive there and hotels weren’t bad the last time I was there.

But, that’s when I started to consider my other options. Alabama and Mississippi both had finals this weekend. Alabama had 7 games over three days (1 Wednesday, 3 Thursday, and 3 Friday) at Tuscaloosa. But, the earlier week, with no Saturday games, made that trip a little more difficult.

But, then there was Mississippi. Six games in two days. And, though they were originally scheduled for Ole Miss in Oxford, the games were relocated on short notice to Jackson’s Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. Where the games had been held annually for years before they started the biannual rotation between Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Southern Miss.

By hosting the games in Jackson, they were now off-campus, which was a major issue with covid restrictions in the Magnolia State. Also, by playing at a 44,000 seat stadium (which I’ve also seen listed as 60,000 total capacity), the 25% limit was well more than enough to handle the per game crowd.

To the point that they were only selling one ticket. No need to clear out the stadium between games. Most of the other Covid restrictions and policies were in place. Distancing, masks, etc. Every other row was closed off (though for bleachers that was just a sticker placed at the end of every alternating row).

I had only ever been to one game in Mississippi previously. That was a game in Meridian between the host Meridian and Jim Hill, a public school from Jackson.

So, my decision was pretty well set. It was just a matter of then getting there.

I already had one really long trip this year from home and back. That being South Dakota. And that was solo. This trip was with a friend. With the age of covid, all the precautions were taken. Which make things a real pain.

By Wednesday night, we were just outside Cincinnati and stopped for food. In Kentucky, there’s no in-store dining. So, we stopped at a Rally’s and when we started the car? Battery was dead.

Had no jumper cables, but I do have AAA, so waited a ridiculously long time for a jump. Turns out, they routed me to the wrong regional AAA office, so the request was never processed. Not exactly stellar reviews for my first use of AAA in two years.

After that, though, the rest of the night went well. Even if a bit abbreviated. Stopped in Louisville for the night. A Red Carpet Inn. Same as I had in South Dakota a few weeks prior.

But, that made for a longer drive on Thursday. Sticking with freeways with the forecast of rain. Stopped in Tennessee at Bojangles, gas, and then took a brief detour through Memphis.

I’ve been in Memphis several times, more than several, especially on trips to Texas. And yet I never stopped to see the Liberty Bowl. Mostly because it’s location isn’t exactly quickly accessible off a freeway. Then, after that, was a quick jaunt by Graceland. Been there once. Just a drive-by viewing for my friend. Even if you’re not a huge Elvis fan. it’s an interesting waypoint in Memphis. It’s also interesting seeing how the neighborhood around Graceland has both declined and seen an increase of kitsch around it. Plazas and storefronts. Fast food. Hotels. It’s a major thoroughfare from the south into Memphis. Partly why he chose that spot.

After that, it was a long tedious drive south through Mississippi’s pine forests. Stopped for gas just north of Jackson for $1.599. One of the fringe benefits of going to Mississippi. Everything is cheap. Part of the whole ‘lowest cost of living in the nation’ thing the state is near the top.

And then, the hotel. Oh, there’s a lot to say about the hotel. I booked the room, chosing a dirt cheap hotel. But, i expected it to still be in business. Turns out, it really wasn’t. Arriving at night, we found the hotel lights were on, but the office was closed with signs indicating the hotel was closed. They had no water. And no timeframe on when they’d have water.

Luckily, hotels.com rectified the issue and got us booked into a much better hotel. One that was open.

Unlike some other states, private schools aren’t part of the state association in Mississippi. This is mostly a throwback to desegregation. Where many ‘academies’ were created to flee the newly integrated public schools. As such, they stayed, and to this day remain, separate from the public school association. The MAIS, the MidSouth Association of Independent Schools, recently changing their name from Mississippi to MidSouth due to having schools outside the state.

This small group of schools hold their own titles, mostly at Jackson Academy, while the ‘big school’ title, consisting of 6 teams, is played right here at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. Those games were held the week prior to the public schools.

Next morning, it was football. Just a couple miles to the stadium. Being a Friday, there was a full parking lot, as I believe, the surrounding environs use the expansive parking lot for their own needs.

We did find a spot on the southwest side, but were then told to me one lot over. As that lot was actually for a business that just happens to be inside the square footprint of the stadium grounds.

Tickets for the day were sold online. Though, I did see a ticket booth open. Tickets were $15 plus a $1.50 fee. If you stayed for all three, and didn’t leave, you could watch all three for $15. If you wanted to leave, you had to have a new ticket to reenter. But, seating was entirely general admission.

#62 3A – Noxubee County v. Magee

In Mississippi, they split the state up into regions, and have a northern and southern bracket. The ‘Northern Champion’ this year was the ‘home’ team in the state finals. Wearing the dark uniforms and having the pressbox side of the field.

Noxubee County is from the northeast corner, located in the town of Macon, south of Columbus and Starkville. North of Meridian.

Magee had been 20 years since their last appearance. Noxubee County, though, were 5-2 in state titles with much more recent appearances. A 28-20 halftime lead for Magee ballooned to a 49-26 victory.

After that, it was a 90 minute wait in the cold, windy afternoon in central Mississippi. I purchased a program to peruse between games. And found one of the bathrooms had no working sinks. The other mens room, though, luckily did. Since I already used the soap first without thinking to ever check.

#63 1A – Biggersville v. Lumberton

The Biggersville Lions are from just south of Corinth. A town north of Tupelo, and just south of Tennessee. This was their first ever state title game. And considered a big upset that they made it through the semifinals. Meanwhile, Lumberton were runners-up last year, and were 4-2 in title games.

Lumberton jumped out to a not-surprising lead, 14-0. But, a third quarter TD made it 14-8 and a fourth quarter TD made it 14-14. The conversion failed. But Biggersville slow and stodgy rushing game ate yards and time and left little for Lumberton to answer. But they did. A long TD pass with 24 seconds left made it 20-14.

Rather than keeping the evens and odds on consistent days, the MISSHSAA played their 6A title on Friday night. Also, by placing the 1A before the 6A, it meant there was much less overlap between crowds in the parking lot searching for spaces.

#64 6A – Oxford v. Oak Grove

Oxford’s OHS banners couldn’t keep pace, and left a nice chance for an “O-H” photo-op.

Oxford were defending state champions of their first and only state title. Going 1-4 overall. Oak Grove, from Hattiesburg, were 1-5 in titles, with their only victory in 2013. But, they were runners-up in 2018 and 2019.

After three, this tightly contested, though incredibly sloppy, game was 21-14 for Oxford. After Oxford took the 28-21 lead in the 4th, Oak Grove went down and scored a TD with 7.1 seconds left in the game. And then went for two and made it. A pass to the left side of the endzone. 29-28.

After that it was a stop at Cookout, a very good fast food chain down south, for some burgers, onion rings, and sweet team. Their ‘big double burgers’, which don’t have cheese, were only $1 right now. So, you can’t go wrong with that at all.

The next morning, it was another quick jaunt over to the stadium. This time, parking was so plentiful, the lot that we were in on Friday was completely empty. Which made it feel strange pulling in to park there. Most everyone else were now in the north and eastern lots, which were now far less packed than Friday.

Nice thing about the games at Mississippi, is that they don’t really check what you bring in. They wand you or bring you through the metal detectors. But, the clear bag rule is in effect. But, I had a ton of electronics in there. Though not my little lens. Which I had forgotten for the second straight day. Between my power brick, tablets, cords, money, notebook, etc.

And Mississippi allows all still cameras. Which meant I got some great daytime shots. But, sitting roughly 100 yards from the sideline about 2/3rds the way up to the press box meant that night shots could not be cropped as easily. But, letting in my big zoom lens was a nice touch. Something a lot of other state finals don’t allow unless you’re on the sideline.

#65 4A – Louisville v. Poplarville

After two good finishes on day one, and the first game being entertaining and competitive before it got one-sided, it was a bit surprising to see yet another close game.

Even if calpreps had 5 of the six games listed as within 9 points. And the one game they were accurate on, they were really accurate with it being one-sided. But not this one.

Louisville is a beast. They’re 9-0 in state title games. With wins in 1985, 86, 91, 93, 95, 97, 2008, 2013, and 2018. Poplarville, meanwhile, were 0-3 in finals. In 2016, 2018, and 2019. To win 9 isn’t that impressive. It happens. But to never lose when you make it to the state final that many times? That’s impressive. And this game, just added to their mythos.

Trailing 14-7 at halftime, Louisville went until 36 seconds left in the game to score on a TD pass to the goal line and falling backwards in. Then, went for two to win the title. A tackle-breaking run to the left side to go up 15-14. This was one of the cleanest games played. Not in terms of ‘dirty play’, but in terms of general execution. So many of the games this weekend were sloppy and a flagfest. But, not Louisville and Poplarville.

There was a bit of gap, thanks to the low score and heavy running attacks, to wait for the 2A game. A game that calpreps said would be one-sided, at 42-21.

They were pretty close.

#66 2A – Calhoun City v. Taylorsville

Taylorsville were the Tartars. A name for a Mongolian warrior. They were 7-5 in state finals. Meanwhile, Calhoun City were in the 12th state title. But, only having two victories in the past 11. And they wouldn’t get a third.

This game was sloppy. Penalties were abundant. And Taylorsville never had trouble winning this one. It made for a slightly boring game. Knowing the inevitable. Two first quarter TDs, two second quarter TDs, another in the third, and one more in the 4th. The only thing we learned was that Mississippi apparently didn’t have a mercy rule. Though the clock operations became eccentric in the fourth quarter. Running sometimes when sometimes it wouldn’t. But no consistency to it. But couldn’t find anything online to confirm a running clock rule. In the end, the Tartars won their 8th title, 42-0.

Luckily, Saturday was a much nicer day, weather wise. Not much warmer. But the wind was minimal most of the day. Making it much more comfortable sitting in the large expanse of bleachers. With one game left, this was projected to be a one-point game.

#67 5A – West Point v. West Jones

The West Point Green Wave had some ‘interesting’ uniforms. Dark green pants and helmets and gray pants, white numbers. They’re a regular contender in 5A. West Jones was in Jones County, around the I-59 city of Laurel. The Mustangs were 27-26 underdogs to the Green Wave.

West Point were in their 14th state title. Winning in 1982, 87, 88, 89, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Four straight and looking for their fifth. Their 12th overall. While West Jones were 0-1, losing in 2018 to West Point.

The game was a bit sloppy, but competitive and back-and-forth scoring. A tie game, 27-27, headed into the fourth quarter. West Jones would score a TD, but miss the PAT. Leaving a shot for West Point to win it. But, West Jones would hang on to win their first state title over the West Point dynasty.

After that, it was back to the hotel and to get ready to leave in the morning. I intended to get some sleep. But, instead, was up until 3am. Got up at 7am. Finally decided I wasn’t getting back to sleep and we were up and out of the hotel by 9am eastern (8am central).

Got through Memphis, with a brief stop in Batesville for gas and some Zaxby’s, before the Browns game started. Watched it on my tablet while my friend drove us through Nashville and up to Portland. Where we again stopped for gas and this time, Bojangles again.

Actually drove through Nashville, and the state, while the game was going on. Though given that the Browns went prevent as soon as the third quarter started, it wasn’t a second half to witness firsthand, anyways.

But, we did make it to northern Kentucky for another quick pitstop at a Speedway and to switch drivers again. I got to be chauffered the rest of the way to my friend’s house before taking over driving. I left his place right before 11pm. And then, it was still a three hour drive home. Plus another stop for gas, and something to drink, in Cambridge. The only McDonald’s open and the Sheetz for gas.

After that, I pulled into home. Got my things situated into the house. Watched the taped Columbus Crew game, and then went to bed just after 5am.

Now, my preconceptions of Mississippi didn’t hold up as much as they do for other southern states. For instance, Georgia has incredible speed. Even Louisiana did when I was there years ago. However, the MISSHSAA games were sloppy, slow, and honestly shocking that some of these teams were even vying for a state championship.

Only the Lumberton/Poplarville game was considered a ‘clean’ game with little mistakes. The rest, not so much. Though they were competitive and overall entertaining. Only one bad game among the bunch.

The ‘blow ’em up’ rather than wrap-up tackling was a consistent theme. Though, I think ‘lack of speed’ caused a lot of the tackling to just seem weak, rather than explosive attempts.

The stadium was nice. But the field, and lighting, were minimal. Mostly, because one entire light bank was dark. But, with the late switch to the stadium due to covid, it was the best option. Huge stadium to hold the crowds expected without limitation. So, the grass field getting chewed up or the one of six light banks out, were minor inconveniences to an overall great weekend for what it was. A state championship weekend in a season where nothing seems to go right.

With splitting expenses, the weekend wasn’t that expensive. For 2,106 total miles, my share of gas was on $44.03. Hotels were split, and the cheap Jackson hotel that we were thankfully unable to use due to it being closed, meant our price was honored at the much nicer Comfort Inn. Which cost just $101.67 for my half of the room for three nights in Jackson and one night in Louisville. Tickets were $33.50 each for the two days. And I did pay $5 for a program and $24 for a shirt for my daughter.

Total expense for the weekend was $390.20. Or, roughly $65 per game.

Photos of the Week

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

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2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 HSF Wk 16 Mississippi

2020 Statistics

67 Games
131 Teams
52 Stadiums
10 States

74 New Teams
43 New Stadiums

1,238 different teams
379 different stadiums

1,105 total games

Next Week

There’s nothing on the docket for Week 17. There’s playoff games in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida. There’s state titles in Oklahoma and Arkansas. However, I am planning to head to Texas for Week 18. At least, preliminary plan. Though, I didn’t consider that Florida has their title games next weekend as well. And those games will be played over 4 days at Doak-Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. Which means it won’t be that far of a drive. Tickets are $15 a piece, though there’s no parking this year. Games are at 1pm and 7pm, which means there’s a lot of free time in the middle of the day between games.

The Texas games will be $20 per day for Wednesday and Thursday. $15 with advance purchases through competing schools. Parking is, well, free for me. But, $20 if you’re stuck paying. I did already book a non-refundable hotel room. And have Wednesday’s tickets purchased. Though, none of the luxury sideline seats have been available.

So, despite being out, potentially, $65 I still might head to Tallahassee instead.

But, that’s still something that remains to be seen. I might not go anywhere. Who knows in 2020. There’s also the possibility of Louisiana or Georgia after Christmas. And then there’s still the states with spring ball. New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Illinois, North Carolina, Maryland and New York potentially.

For more, and larger, photos from this weekend, click HERE.

For photos from previous weeks and seasons, visit http://www.flickr.com/sykotyk/sets/

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