JACKSON — Only four teams remain in each class in the 2022 MHSAA Football Playoffs as we head into the semifinal round this weekend.
Today, we'll break down the 6A South matchup between preseason No. 1 Brandon and current No. 1 Ocean Springs.
- Record: 11-1
- Head coach: Sam Williams (2nd year, 22-4)
- Key players: RB Nate Blount, WR Lester Miller, OL Luke Rogers, ATH Quincy Phillips
The Bulldogs picked up close wins over Clinton and Warren Central en route to a 7-0 start before hitting their first and only bump in the road — a 25-20 road loss to Oak Grove on Oct. 21.
Closing out the season with wins over Rankin County rivals Northwest Rankin and Pearl secured the top seed in Region 3, and the Bulldogs soundly beat Hancock 42-7 in the first round and survived a 36-28 scare against Warren Central last weekend.
Scouting the Bulldogs: The secret to Brandon’s success isn’t much of a secret — the running game has been absolutely dominant in 11 of their 12 games, and the defense has been more than serviceable.
Quarterback Landon Varnes is a capable passer when the Bulldogs can keep a clean pocket, and wide receiver Lester Miller’s route-running and high-point ability make him a threat in both the intermediate and deep passing game.
But the real strength of the Brandon offense is that big offensive line and 235-pound tailback Nate Blount. The junior has stepped up his game since the injury of fellow running back Jarvis Durr (against Oak Grove), and MRA transfer Quincy Phillips has helped fill in the gap, sliding over from slot receiver to backup tailback and handling kick and punt-return duties.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are big up front, forcing teams that usually run the ball to try to stretch the field in the outside passing game (see Warren Central last week).
Key to success: The Bulldog offensive line has to get a push against the Ocean Springs defensive front, which slowed down the Warrior rushing attack and harassed Oak Grove quarterback A.J. Maddox for four quarters a week ago.
The only way to slow Blount down is to hit him in the backfield, and even then, it’s a 50/50 proposition.
On the other side of the ball, it may be impossible to completely stop Ocean Springs quarterback Bray Hubbard. But if he’s going to beat them, the Bulldogs would be smart to make him do it through the air. At the end of the day, Hubbard is an athlete playing quarterback, so he’s not as refined as a passer as your typical college prospect. If he runs for 270 more yards this week, it’ll be a long night for Brandon.
Coach says: “The one thing that sticks out (about Ocean Springs) on film is the quarterback. Everyone knows he’s a great player, kinda like Cam Akers or Jarquez Hunter in years past. Players like that are normal football players until they get in the open field, so you just have to contain them and do what you can to make sure they don’t get there.”
- Record: 12-0
- Head coach: Blake Pennock (3rd year, 32-4)
- Key players: QB/DB Bray Hubbard, WR J.P. Coulter, RB/DB Will Gray
2022 synopsis: There are several words you could use to describe the Greyhounds’ season. “Dominant” would probably be the most appropriate, because they’ve certainly been that.
In 12 games, the Greyhound’s closest game was the 17-point, 42-35 win over Oak Grove in the second round last Friday night. They whipped Clinton, Hattiesburg and George County in their three non-region games, then ran roughshod through Region 4, going 7-0 and winning all seven by 20 or more points.
The first-round matchup with Northwest Rankin wasn’t as close as the 28-point margin of victory suggests, and the Greyhounds had the Oak Grove win well in-hand before the two fourth-quarter interceptions sealed the victory.
Scouting the Greyhounds: The prevailing thought on Ocean Springs is that if you take away Hubbard, they would be a middling Region 4 team. But that does a disservice to the rest of the team, which has provided the two-time reigning 6A Mr. Football with a great supporting cast this season.
Will Gray has become an effective two-way player with 11 rushing touchdowns on offense and 73 tackles and two interceptions on defense, and everyone knows what J.P. Coulter can do at receiver.
The offensive line won’t overwhelm anyone in size, but is athletic and can do a lot of different things in Pennock and coordinator Jake Bramlett’s scheme.
Defensively, the Greyhounds have been solid enough to slow down even their toughest opponents and produced enough turnovers to support an offense that averages 42.5 points a game.
Key to success: Ocean Springs is at its best when the offense is able to spread out the receivers and still run the football effectively. A lot of that has to do with Hubbard, who has a chance to get to 2,000 rushing yards to match his 2,084 yards passing before it is all said and done.
If they can keep the Brandon defense honest, they can dictate the game. If they become one-dimensional, the Bulldog defense is as aggressive as any in the state.
Defensively, the Greyhounds have to get pressure on Varnes and keep him scrambling. The junior is good enough to beat you if he breaks contain, but he’s as solid as any passer in the state when he has a clean pocket.
Coach says: “We’ve had success in getting after the opposing quarterback in the post-season, and we’ll have to continue to do that Friday night. Offensively, we’re just going to do what we do, and we’re tough to stop when we get into a rhythm.”