Natchez ready for high stakes showdown with Brookhaven

Published 12:55 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2023

NATCHEZ — Less than a week after clinching their first playoff berth since 2018, the Natchez High School Bulldogs would love nothing more than to play that MHSAA Class 5A South State Playoff first-round game at home.

In order to do that, Natchez High will travel to Brookhaven to take on their rivals in Region 3-5A, the Brookhaven High School Panthers, with a lot riding on the outcome of this game for both teams Thursday night.

Kickoff between the Bulldogs (5-5, 3-1) and the Panthers (5-4, 3-1) is slated for 7 p.m. Both teams had to overcome some adversity last Friday night to get to this point. Natchez High had to offset a second-half rally by one region newcomer in Provine High School to beat the Rams at home 30-18. Brookhaven High rallied from a 9-0 deficit to defeat another region newcomer in North Pike High School on the road 13-9.

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The winner of this game will be the No. 2 seed and will host a first-round game next Friday night while the loser will be the No. 3 seed and will be on the road for the round one.

With a short week of practice for both teams, Natchez High head coach Steve Davis said the main thing the Bulldogs’ defense will be focusing on is stopping Panthers senior running back Xavier Gayten.

Or, as Davis said, “If not slow him down. We have to contain him and not let him go. Their offense revolves around him. He’s an incredible talent. We have to contain him and not let him get off the big runs to get their offense going.”

Davis noted that Natchez High’s offense needs to sustain drives to keep Brookhaven High’s offense off the field — something the Bulldogs didn’t do in the second half that allowed Provine to get back in the game until Natchez High scored two touchdowns late to put the game away.

“We have to move the ball to keep them off the field. It’s going to take a complete team effort to come away with a victory Thursday night,” Davis added. “We came out and we didn’t play with the energy (I thought we would). We kind of played tight. We let them get back in it with silly mistakes. Not recognizing down and distance. Defense bailed us out and we were able to come away with a victory.”

Davis said when the Bulldogs are on offense, they have to control the Panthers’ defensive line that he said plays fast and plays hard.

“Controlling those guys up front, make sure we run the ball, protect our quarterback,” Davis said. “Number 99 and No. 89, and the two linebackers, they play really hard. We have to match their intensity Thursday night.”

Davis said that Natchez High junior quarterback Kaden Walton will have to have a huge game like he had last year when the Bulldogs won at Brookhaven High 48-34.

“We need a huge game from him throwing the ball. Making the right checks and the right reads. Not to put any added pressure on him, but we’re really detail-oriented more on practice for him,” Davis said. “They run a lot of schemes. We have to recognize whether they run a 4-front, a 5-front, a cover-1, or a cover-3.”

Davis said the running game, led by junior running back Carl McDonald Jr. and Demarccus Blanton, must also step up and take some of the pressure off of Walton.

“Carl knows he has to keep being Carl. He’s 69 yards away from 1,000 for the season. Demarccus came up huge for us last week. Those two guys, if we can run the football, that’ll be huge for us,” Davis said. “If they can run the ball, that will control the ball game.”