Centreville relishes role as little guy in title game
CENTREVILLE — For Centreville Academy, it’s the reincarnation of the classic David and Goliath story, and the Tigers are hoping to play the role of David.
Centreville Academy has pushed its way past several obstacles this season to make it to the MAIS Class AA championship game for the first time since 2008.
Though the Tigers have all the momentum of a stellar season to back them up, they still have to face No. 1-seeded Simpson Academy Friday at Mississippi College in Clinton.
Senior free safety Colby Shaw said being an underdog makes the players want to work even harder in practice to prove the football world wrong.
“Everybody picked the odds for Simpson, so we want to be that little guy that said, ‘I told you so,’” Shaw said. “We feed off other people’s negatives to turn it into a positive for us.”
Simpson has several players who have been championship-game experience. Simpson lost to Brookhaven Academy last year in the South State championship game, but ousted River Oaks Academy 29-15 for the state title in 2011.
Back-to-back championship game appearances is an impressive resume, but Centreville has had enough trials and tribulations to overcome to be overwhelmed by Simpson’s rap sheet.
The Tigers had to deal with head coach Bill Hurst’s open-heart surgery last summer, and without him, several players and coaches had to step up and put in work while also praying for a speedy recovery.
“Coach had his surgery, and he didn’t get to make a lot of practices,” Shaw said, “He didn’t think we’d be working hard without him, but we just went out there and we wanted to do it for him.”
The Tigers’ 2013 season was fueled by motivation to give Hurst a reason to stand on the sidelines instead of staying at home. And Hurst said he feels a great sense of pride to be able to take his Tigers to the championship game again.
“I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to have another team to get a chance to play for a championship,” he said.
Things started well for Centreville after winning its season opener against Brookhaven Academy, but the Tigers found themselves overwhelmed in a 44-18 loss to Trinity Episcopal Day School in Week 2.
Shaw said they underestimated the Saints that week, and that’s when the players got together and realized that something had to give.
“We beat them pretty bad the year before, and we came out there and lollygagged and lost,” he said. “So we talked to each other and said we need to come together as a team.”
From that point, the Tigers haven’t lost a game, but the ride hasn’t been without its bumps in the road. Junior quarterback Casey Haygood broke his ankle in the second round of the playoffs against Tri-County Academy.
Haygood said it hurts to not be able to play in the championship game, but he said he has faith in his teammates to get the job done.
“I’ve been pretty sad because I want to be out there with my team, but I know they can do it,” Haygood said.
Hurst relied on freshman Britt Netterville to take his junior varsity experience to the next level and take over the reins in place of the injured Haygood.
“Netterville has come in and has done an outstanding job,” Hurst said. “(Assistant) coach (Brian) Stutzman has put him in position to be comfortable. He is throwing the ball really well.”
Netterville said Stutzman has helped prepare him for the high school level, so he wasn’t as nervous as he was ready.
“Everything has happened pretty quickly,” Netterville said. “I hadn’t planned on playing varsity until coach Hurst called me into the office. But I wasn’t nervous. I knew the team was counting on me.”
Though he will be on the sidelines, Haywood said he would still play a role Friday night.
“I’ll just be encouraging my teammates and trying to help Britt out as much as I can,” Haygood said.
Hurst said they have a physical game ahead of them, and it’s going to take every player stepping up to take home the title against an experienced, senior-laden Simpson team.
“They’ve got 16 seniors this season, and they’re one of the better teams in the state,” Hurst said. “You know you’ll have to play Simpson at some point in the postseason. They are a physical team, and they’ll play a very hard-nosed ball game.”
Netterville said a team as physical as Simpson would mean trusting his line to protect him in the pocket, and he’s glad to have the lineman he has on his side of the ball.
“We’re going to have to block really hard because they have a really good defense,” Netterville said. “It’s going to be the hardest game we ever played.”
Despite the X’s and the O’s of the game, Shaw said the main focus is for each player to play this game like it’s their last — because for seniors like Shaw, it will be.
“I’m ready to go out there and play my last football game with my team,” Shaw said. “You have to put it all on the line, because you have no other choice.”
The Centreville Tigers will play Simpson Academy for the MAIS Class AA state championship at 1 p.m. Friday at Mississippi College.