How will NHS respond to tough season?

Published 12:01am Sunday, November 10, 2013

Going back to late summer, at least a few Natchez High School players said to me how excited they were about moving down to MHSAA Class 5A.

The Bulldogs were coming off a 7-4 season in Class 6A, in which they missed the playoffs. Yes — that’s 7-4 and no postseason berth, thanks largely to the fact that NHS was likely playing in the toughest region in Class 6A. With strong teams like Brandon, Meridian, Oak Grove, Petal and Hattiesburg in their same division, a 4-3 regional record last season put the Bulldogs on the outside looking in.

And given that the 2012 Bulldogs were probably one of the better teams in the school’s recent history, that had to be a bitter pill for NHS fans to swallow.

The logic was, then, that moving down to Class 5A would mean an easier road for NHS in 2013. In all honesty, NHS was probably better-suited for Class 5A even before this past season. The other schools listed — not to mention the likes of, say, South Panola — have a bit more resources than NHS. Much of that is likely due to those schools being in areas with larger populations. It also doesn’t help that NHS has to compete with three private schools in its own back yard, not just in terms of enrollment, but also community support.

So the feeling was, with a move down a classification, the Bulldogs would be primed to make a postseason run this fall against teams that NHS supposedly matched up better against. The reality, however, wasn’t pretty.

The Bulldogs opened up with a loss to a very good Wilkinson County team before getting a pair of wins against Jefferson County and Ferriday. Prior to the Bulldogs’ loss to Warren Central in Week 4, NHS hadn’t played against a team that was at least Class 5A or above. (Warren Central is 6A.)

That kind of non-division schedule didn’t adequately prepare NHS for its Class 5A regional schedule, but with a smaller athletic budget this season, the Bulldogs had to play their non-region schedule against teams closer to home.

Then regional play started, and the Bulldogs seemed to be out-classed. Blowout losses to Wayne County, Laurel, Brookhaven and Pearl River Central stand out. In its region, NHS gave up an average of 43.4 points while scoring only 32.4 points — not exactly a recipe for success.

A season that began with much hope ended Friday night with a 54-36 win against Winnfield. For the second straight year, the Bulldogs will be sitting at home when the playoffs begin.

What went wrong? That’s for Lance Reed and the rest of the coaching staff to determine. One thing’s for sure, however — the returning players now have an idea of what they’re facing in Class 5A. And despite what they may have thought coming into this season, the going didn’t get any easier.

It will now be up to the Bulldog coaches to sell the returning players on any and all mistakes that were made — and point to this season as to why they cannot afford to make those same mistakes. The offseason has officially begun for NHS, and how the players respond will determine whether or not the Bulldogs have a better showing in 2014.