We've hit the half-way point in Mississippi high school football, and this week's slate of "Games to Watch" includes a couple of crucial region matchups that will certainly have an effect in playoff seeding.
Here's a look at the seven best games in the MHSAA Friday night.
No. 9 Clinton (3-2) at No. 2 Madison Central (4-1)
Judd Boswell's Arrows lost early non-region games to No. 1 Brandon and No. 3 Ocean Springs, but back-to-back wins over Germantown and Starkville have the Clinton faithful believing. This week, they travel to Madison Central to face one of the two other undefeated teams in Region 2-6A. The Jaguars have had the Arrows' number, but that Clinton running game with tailback Jakobe Calvin and quarterback Jordyn Battee has given everyone fits.
No. 5 Tupelo (6-0) at Starkville (3-2)
Speaking of teams jockeying for position in Region 2, Tupelo and Starkville will meet Friday night in a game that is pivotal for both teams. Tupelo wants to keep pace with the Clinton-Madison Central in the region title race, and the Golden Wave look fully capable after blanking a good Oxford team 35-0 last week. Starkville is reeling after back-to-back losses to No. 2 Madison Central and No. 9 Clinton. It feels like a must-win game for the Yellowjackets, who can ill-afford falling to 0-3 in the standings. That's life in the best region in Mississippi.
South Panola (4-1) at Southaven (5-0)
How about a little Region 1 love? South Panola has flown under the radar since losing its season opener at Oxford, but the Tigers have quietly strung together four-straight weeks of good football. Wins over Hernando and Olive Branch the past two Fridays mean they are 2-0 in the region. Southaven is also 2-0 coming off wins over Center Hill and Hernando, so the winner of this game will wake up Saturday alone atop the Region 1 standings.
East Central (5-0) at Picayune (6-0)
Picayune is getting nearly all the headlines on the coast, and for good reason. The Maroon Tide have won 17-straight games going back to Sept. 17 of last season, and they have beaten their six 2022 opponents by a combined score of 203-42. All that's great, but they need to beat undefeated East Central if they want to hold on to first place the Region 4 standings. The Hornets hammered West Harrison and Pearl River Central in their first two district games, but Picayune is a different kind of animal.
Lawrence County (6-0) at Poplarville (5-1)
On paper, this game looks like one of those unstoppable force-meets-immovable object situations. Lawrence County comes into Friday night averaging 46.6 points a game over its last five outings. Poplarville has allowed just 16 points total in its last five games. Something has to give here — either Ahmad Hardy and the Cougars keep it rolling, or Mark Will and the Poplarville defense flexes its muscles. Whoever wins will still control their own destiny in Region 7-4A.
Kosciusko (4-1) at West Lauderdale (5-0)
It's looking like a three-horse race in Region 4-4A, where Kosciusko, West Lauderdale and Louisville are all 1-0 coming off wins last week. The Whippets have looked great outside of a stumble against Winona in Week 2, winning their last two (against Forest and Choctaw Central) by three touchdowns. West Lauderdale has dismantled all five teams they have faced, scoring five touchdowns or more in each game. No. 6 Louisville still looks like the team to beat, but whichever team loses this game Friday night will need help to get back on top of the region standings.
Simmons (5-0) at McEvans (5-1)
Who says regular-season 1A games don't matter? While both of these teams will likely make the playoffs, the team that wins this game Friday night will have an inside track to the top seed coming out of Region 2. Simmons is riding the three-headed rushing attack of Devonte Rush, Prentavis Madison and Eddie George. McEvans counters with an explosive offense led by versatile senior athlete Omarion Blakes and a defense that hasn't given up more than two touchdowns in a month of games.