Jefferson County will look for revenge against Natchez

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, September 21, 2023

FAYETTE — Jefferson County High School will be looking to get back on track after its first loss of the season. Natchez High School will be seeking to finally get that elusive first win of the season. Something’s gotta give when the Tigers play host to the rival Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Friday.

Jefferson County (3-1) will not only want to back to its winning ways after a tough 21-14 loss to MHSAA Class 7A Murrah High School last Thursday night, but it will also be wanting to avenge last year’s defensive-minded 14-8 at Natchez High last year.

Jefferson County head coach Roderick Holmes said he learned a lot about his Class 3A Tigers during last week’s game.

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“I learned that my team, they can play four quarters of football. I learned that we are more mentally tough than I thought we were because we had a lot of things go against us. But they were focused,” Holmes said.

Meanwhile, Class 5A Natchez High is coming off a tough 39-14 loss at Class 6A Ocean Springs High School last Friday night. Despite the loss, Bulldogs head coach Steve Davis says his team is 

playing better than it did the first couple of weeks of the 2023 season.

Davis added that his Bulldogs are closer to be the team he wants it to be now than it was when the season started.

“We’re playing better. We’re playing better than what the score shows on the scoreboard. We’ve cut down on the errors. We’re paying more attention to detail. We’ve played a lot of tough teams. We’ve played some tough teams close,” Davis said. “We are becoming the team I always wanted it to be. The focus is better. The practices are actually better. We’re almost to the point where we should be right about now.”

Holmes said his team’s defense will need to limit the big plays that hurt them last year. After last week’s loss to Murrah, Holmes said the play-calling was too conservative and that he should have opened up the playbook.

“There’s a lot of anticipation for this game. But we’ve been taking everything week by week,” Holmes said. “We need to have all hands on deck. We need to have our best players be their players Friday night. They’re 0-4. They’re a wounded animal. And the wounded animal is the most dangerous animal. Me having started coaching in Natchez, these are big games. I would love to come out as the victors. But I don’t focus all my season on that.”

On the other hand, Davis said his team needs to cut down on the self-inflicted wounds that have plagued the Bulldogs throughout the season.

“We play well for a while, then we self-implode, self-destruct. We continue to fight, but we don’t make breaks for ourselves,” Davis said.

As for what the Tigers will be working on in practice this week to get ready for the Bulldogs, Holmes said, “We’re working on everything we work on each week — our offensive plays, our defensive plays, our special teams plays. We’re going to need to everything we can to defeat those guys.”

Davis said that Natchez High will be working more on the offensive line and shoring up its blocking schemes, which he said hurt the Bulldogs last week at Ocean Springs.

“We didn’t recognize their fronts. We didn’t protect well for Kaden (Walton). We didn’t block well and open holes for Carl McDonald. Understanding pass protection. Understanding blocking in the run game. How to pick up the blitz. Jefferson County loves to blitz,” Davis said.

Holmes noted while there are some similarities between this year’s Natchez High team and the one that Jefferson County faced last year at Tom F. Williams Memorial Stadium on the NHS campus, there is also one big difference.

“The team we faced last year was able to make big plays when it counted the most. This team has one of those big playmakers. They play hard. They play real hard. The difference is I don’t see as many four-year starters as they had last year,” Holmes said.

As for what concerns him the most about the Bulldogs on each side of the ball, Holmes said, “On offense, they run a variety of plays. You can’t just look at film and say they’re going to run this play on this down and that play on that down. On defense, the size up front and one of their best players is on defense, Jakel Irving. Probably the size of their defensive line.”

As for what concerns him most about the Tigers on each side of the ball, Davis said, “The quarterback’s ability to scramble and make plays. They have an excellent set of skill players. They have a lot of speed. Number 2, Jabari Watson, when he’s out of the pocket, he’s very dangerous with his feet or with his arms. He can extend plays. Defensively, their linebackers play tight to the line of scrimmage. They play the run very well. Number 6 (Jermall Willams) and No. 9 (Jaekwon Collins), we have to account for.

Holmes said the Tigers’ “committee of running backs” will have to have a big game for them to come out victorious Friday night.

“JJ Claiborne, Jamari Tenner, and Gariyon Bailey. Those guys are going to have to be big. We’re going to have to get our running game going. And our quarterback, Watson, running the ball,” Holmes said. “Defensively, we need the whole defense to step up. We’re going to need big plays from the free safety position. Special teams is going to have to be big. Our first three games, we had a special teams touchdown. Last week in our loss, we didn’t have any. That could’ve been the difference right there.”

As for who will have to step up for the Bulldogs to finally pick win number one this season, Davis said, “For us, we’re going to need the defensive line close their front. Erick Woods, Keldon Jones, Jakel Irving, and Darius Williams. They have to control Jefferson County’s front five so we don’t have to blitz a lot. If they can control the line of scrimmage, we can do more on the back end. Offensively, we need to have our run game. Carl McDonald will be key to what we do this week. Damarrcus Blanton, he’s our other running back. We’re going to have to rely on them very heavily this Friday.

“Of course, with the type of defense they play, we’re going to have to win on the outside. Ashton Minor and Caron Williams will have to be big,” Davis added.

As for what the atmosphere will be at Jefferson County this Friday night for this annual rivalry game, Holmes said, “It’s going to be electric. There’s going to be people everywhere. It may not even be standing room. It may be like Colorado State and Colorado was last Saturday night.”