Natchez, Florence battle for first place Friday

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, October 19, 2023

NATCHEZ — First place in MHSAA Region 3-5A will be on the line Friday night when the Natchez High School Bulldogs play host to the Florence High School Eagles at Tom F. Williams Memorial Stadium.

Kickoff between Florence (5-3, 2-0) and Natchez High (4-4, 2-0) is scheduled for 7 p.m. The Bulldogs are coming off an impressive 36-0 homecoming win over South Jones High School for their fourth win in a row while the Eagles had to rally from a 10-7 halftime deficit to defeat North Pike High School 28-16 on the road.

Last year when these two teams faced off at the end of the 2022 regular season, Natchez High defeated Florence on the road 38-17 after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter. Bulldogs head coach Steve Davis said it will take a team effort for them to have anywhere close to that same result.

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“We have to tackle better. We have to control our gaps defensively and basically do what I’ve been preaching all year and that’s stop the run,” Davis said. “Offensively, we have to run the ball and the quick game for us needs to be clicking for us in the passing game. Our slants and our screens. We have to be clicking with that Friday night.”

For the most part, Natchez High is as healthy as it has been in nearly a month. Normal starting quarterback Kaden Walton is back, as is his back-up, Kameron Morgan. However, Davis is not ready to name who will be starting under center when the Bulldogs host the Eagles.

“I don’t now. That’ll be a game-time decision. Kaden had a separated shoulder during the North Pike game (two weeks ago). I just want to make sure he has a full week of practice. Jakel Irving will start if he can’t go,” Davis said.

The coaching staff simplified the offense with Irving starting at quarterback last week and the Bulldogs ran for nearly 300 yards in their shutout win over the South Jones Braves. Natchez High’s defense was also a key factor, forcing turnovers and even turning one into an Irving scoop-and-score. 

However, getting ready for this Florence team, especially its offense, will be easier said than done.

“Florence is a difficult team to scout. They do things (offensively) that are completely different as far as formations and shifts. Moving personnel. It’s very tedious work looking for everything they do,” Davis said. “Recognizing personnel and recognizing shifts and formations is wwhat we’ve been doing.”

Davis added that Natchez High’s defense will need to keep the Eagles’ offense in long-yard situations, force them to throw the ball, and get at least some three-and-outs so they can’t run their usual 15- to 16-play drives.

“We watched several games of film on them offensively,” Davis said. “Defensively, they’re a 3-4, cover-2 tam. We’ve seen this before with North Pike. We also saw it with South Jones. For us, controlling the box. Lighting the box so we can run the ball.”

Davis said that Walton will have to have a big game if he can play for Natchez High to come out victorious and in first place all to itself in Region 3-5A. Walton wasn’t the only Bulldogs player he mentioned who needs to step up.

“Kaden. His presence in the pocket. Controlling the tempo. Making the good throws. Making the good reads. Making the checks. Defensively, I’m going to need Troy Jones, Patrick Banks, and Gary Bailey to have big games,” Davis said.